NEWS

Parent raises concerns about nepotism after teacher charged

Eric Tsetsi

The arrest of a McCall Middle School special education teacher’s aide June 28 on one count of child enticement has raised concerns about school department employment practices both locally and statewide.

In a letter dated July 2 and sent to school officials and several other local elected leaders,, Chris Nixon asks for a policy to be put in place to limit the hiring of immediate family members in schools.

Nixon, who has two young children in the Winchester school system, became concerned with the lack of what he refers to as a “nepotism policy” when he learned of the criminal charges leveled against Christopher M. French, 27, of Winchester.

French was accused of trying to entice a 13-year-old female middle school student to meet him for sexual activity.

According to Nixon, the situation may have been avoided if someone other than French’s father, Evander French Jr., was in an immediate supervisory position in the school where they both worked. Evander “Vandy” French is the principal of the McCall Middle School and Christopher French has been employed there full-time since September, 2006.

“One can only imagine the difficulty and stress a student or staff member faces when contemplating their approach to a school principal with knowledge or suspicions of inappropriate behavior between a teacher and student,” wrote Nixon. “This difficulty is surely made greater when the principal is also the father of the accused.”

According to Massachusetts law, the only oversight rules in place for the hiring of family members require that the school committee must receive written notification a minimum of two weeks in advance if an immediate family member will be hired at a school where their relative serves as principal. The law also demands notification if an immediate family member of a superintendent, central office administrator, or school committee member will be hired or appointed.

School officials have been silent on whether these rules were followed in the case of French’s employment. Supt. William McAlduff, school committee chairwoman Sarah Swiger and school committee member Michael Schindelman were all unable to say if notification was given to the School Committee of French’s hiring prior to his 2006 employment. 

PDF: Read Nixon’s letter for yourself

“I wasn’t the superintendent at the time so I can’t comment on that,” said McAlduff, who is in the process of investigating the matter. “I have no knowledge of what happened at the time he was hired.”

Both Swiger and Schindelman, who were serving on the school committee at the time, said they couldn’t recall being notified of French’s employment.

“That is something I’ve been trying to remember,” said Swiger. “I just don’t know at this point.”

There were also apparently no special supervisory guidelines in place to deal with issues regarding Christopher French, according to Swiger and McAlduff.

“I’m not aware of any specific procedures that were in place at the school,” said McAlduff.

Swiger agreed, saying, “There was nothing special for any of our employees that I know about,” however, she added, “As always, the state law is what we follow.”

Nixon, who moved to Winchester about 10 years ago and formerly lived in Texas, said he was surprised that Massachusetts doesn’t have nepotism restrictions. He learned of the lack of a policy only after reading about French’s arrest last week.

“Both for me and my wife, we actually … went to school systems with nepotism restrictions,” he said. “Perhaps because of our upbringing, my wife and I took that for granted.”