Gilford parent alleges conspiracy in arrest during school board meeting
GILFORD — The parent arrested at a school board meeting Monday night after protesting a book assigned at Gilford High School says the school board set him up for the arrest — and claims he has a video to prove it.
Meanwhile, the school district says it has received approval from at least 80 percent of the parents of children assigned Jodi Picoult’s “Nineteen Minutes” to keep the novel in the classroom.
William Baer, whose ninth-grade daughter last week was assigned the book for her honors English class, said he and his wife were appalled by the graphic detail in a passage describing a sexual act.
He went to the school board meeting and pointed out the school erred in not giving notice to parents about the book’s use in class.
The school district has apologized for the error and sent a note to parents on Monday.
After exceeding his allotted two minutes to speak Monday night, Baer began arguing with another resident at the meeting. He said to the board, “Why don’t you have me arrested?”
Lt. James Leach, who is the town’s acting police chief, arrested him on a charge of disorderly conduct.
Baer said the video, which was posted on YouTube Tuesday afternoon, shows Superintendent Kent Hemingway pointing to Leach when Baer began arguing with the other parent. He claims that is evidence that Hemingway organized the arrest.
“I was set up. The cop got the high sign, and I was arrested,” Baer said.
Leach said there was no plan to have Baer arrested.
“It’s not at all unusual to have town or school officials ask to have us present if they think there is a potentially hot topic,” Leach said. “There was no conspiracy, Mr. Baer just got out of hand, and I had to arrest him.”
The controversy began last week when a friend of Baer’s read the book, which Baer’s 14-year-old daughter brought home from school to read as an assignment. The novel begins on March 6, 2007, in the fictional town of Sterling, N.H., and tells of the events leading up to a school shooting and what followed.
Baer said he was trying to bring the wording of the sexually explicit page to the board’s attention.
“The real story that should send a chill down everyone’s spine is that I could be arrested for just trying to get some answers about what they are teaching my daughter,” he said. “I’m not the problem here.”
He said he will fight the arrest in court. Baer’s potential fine for the misdemeanor is $1,200, Leach said.
Hemingway said Lt. Leach was not acting under any direction from school officials when he arrested Baer.
The superintendent said Baer did follow school policy and met with Gilford High School Principal Peter Sawyer about the issue Monday afternoon, before the meeting.
Because the district made an error in not reporting the book to parents before it was assigned, as it usually does, Hemingway said, Sawyer contacted parents of each child for their approval Monday and Tuesday.
“It was 80 percent saying they would allow their students to read it, and 10 percent would not, and 10 percent said they would be getting back to us,” Hemingway said.
The school district is working on ways to improve responsiveness to parents through a new policy that may be adopted for next year.
Barrett M. Christina, a staff attorney at New Hampshire School Boards Association, said complaints like Baer’s are not uncommon in New Hampshire school districts, “but they are usually resolved by the schools and the complainants,” he said.