, Salem, MA

March 31, 2014

Our view: Cheers, jeers for local newsmakers

The Salem News

---- — CHEERS to the Peabody School Committee for requiring Peabody High School seniors to perform a measurable amount of community service before they can graduate. What better way to make sure students get a full view of what adulthood can bring?

“It’s something I strongly believe in for our students ... helping those in a less fortunate position,” said Mayor Ted Bettencourt, who has backed the idea since taking office in 2012. “I don’t want to put onerous conditions on anyone ... Lots of students have to work or have extracurricular activities. I just want our students to understand a little better what’s going on in the world.”

The requirement wouldn’t be onerous, Bettencourt said. Juniors and seniors would likely have to volunteer for a local cause or charity for 8 to 12 hours per school year. Educators note that many students already spend more time than that helping others.

“The kids are usually willing to give up time,” high school Principal Eric Buckley said. “Most of the kids through their four years are involved in some kind of community service or cleanup.”

Some people, however, have no compassion for others. We offer a JEERS to the jerks who stole Patricia Champagne’s motorized wheelchair from her back porch earlier this month.

Champagne was hit by a truck four years ago and needs a partial knee replacement. She relies on the chair to get around, as walking causes her considerable pain. She lives on a second-floor apartment in Salem, meaning the heavy, $5,000 chair needs to stay outside under a tarp. Police think someone may have snatched it for a joyride or to sell as scrap.

At least the story has a happy ending. A 20-year-old man found the chair abandoned on Grove Street, and the next day, his mother called the police to let them know they could pick it up. And after reading about Champagne’s plight in last Wednesday’s Salem News, several local residents stepped forward to offer their help in getting her a replacement.

“I’m very grateful,” Champagne told reporter Neil Dempsey.

CHEERS to Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon, the recipients of the 2014 Salem Award for their brave work on behalf of Haiti’s poor.

Joseph, a native of the country, has been called “Haiti’s most prominent human rights lawyer” by the New York Times. He was the lead attorney in the prosecution of those involved in the so-called Raboteau massacre of 1994, when soldiers went door-to-door in the small town of Raboteau, shooting and beating supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been deposed in a military coup.

Concannon, director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, helped prosecute that case. He also sued the United Nations on behalf of victims of a 2010-11 cholera outbreak in the country, an event medical panels found was likely caused by U.N. peacekeepers.

In a column elsewhere on this page, Kinnflo Michel, a Haitian native and Salem State University senior, said “Concannon and Joseph are no strangers to standing up to human rights violations in Haiti ... What they do is dangerous, yet they continue to be the voice of a poor nation whose government disregards them. We need to support them and continue to keep the struggles in Haiti at the forefront of our awareness.”

JEERS, again, to those holding up a bill filed by state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, to lift the cap and other restrictions on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. The opponents, who include the usual crowd of Boston “progressives,” claim the charters are robbing traditional public schools not only of state funding but also of their best students. Both claims are nonsense. Public schools are reimbursed for the aid they lose when students transfer to public schools — in effect, they’re being paid for kids they DON’T teach, just not as much as the teachers unions would like. As for the best and brightest students and their parents clamoring to get into charters — the wait lists have tens of thousands of names — there’s a reason for that. It’s that the traditional public schools have been failing them for decades. “It’s for the children,” whine the proponents of paying public schools for not doing their job. Let’s be honest. It’s for the bucks.

There was some small hope for progress last week after House members came up with a revised proposal of their own. Let’s hope legislators start taking their constituents’ wishes seriously.