SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Emily Cummiskey resigned from the South Kingstown School Committee Tuesday, calling for unity and blasting her critics as bullies. The move followed weeks of vocal public criticism toward school officials, on and offline, in recent weeks over multiple divisive issues.
“We’re in a dangerous place, we’re a little microcosm of what has happened on the national level,” Cummiskey said. “I implore everyone to take a step back and try to come together. Do it for our kids.”
Reading from a written statement, Cummiskey made her announcement at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, and left the committee’s table before it voted to adjourn.
“It feels that right when we are on the brink of real change — change that would bring our district back to the top — bullies, elitists, slander, lies, trial by social media, they’re all prevailing,” Cummiskey said.
Her departure from the committee comes two weeks after she stepped down as its chairwoman. Vice-chairwoman Christie Fish also relinquished her leadership role at that time.
Cummiskey recalled how in 2017, as an educator and parent of four children in the district, she chose to apply for an open seat on the committee.
“I saw that we needed major change in South Kingstown’s schools,” Cummiskey, a 1998 South Kingstown graduate, said. “I thought I could help bring the change our students, teachers and entire community so desperately needed.”
The Town Council at the time unanimously appointed her to the seat, and she was elected to it in 2018.
Cummiskey, a self-described liberal Democrat, said she spent countless hours reaching out to “the most conservative people I could find,” to hear different points of view.
“I made an assumption that we all held similar ideals of doing what is best for our kids,” she said.
As head of the committee, Cummiskey took the brunt of attacks over an issue that made national headlines, involving a proposal to sue a local parent who was seeking public records from the district about the purported teaching of “critical race theory.”
On June 2, the School Committee opted to try and use mediation rather than its initial plan to file suit against Nicole Solas, who filed some 200 records requests on curriculum relating to critical race theory.
Cummiskey read a prepared statement at that time that claimed the requests from Solas are part of a larger national effort by a racist group to sow chaos in school districts. She identified the group as Parents Defending Education.
The requests were a deliberate attempt to damage the district, she said.
Supporters of Solas at the meeting heckled and booed the committee several times. Cummiskey subsequently removed her online social media accounts.
The committee’s attorney, meanwhile, reported that Solas, through her lawyer, has rejected an offer of mediation over the records request and that the district has fulfilled about 120 of the 200 inquiries. The district has only received payment for one request so far, Aubrey Lombardo said. About 37 requests were unanswered as of Tuesday night, she said.
The committee also is grappling with fallout from an investigation into political mailers that were sent to local homes in April using school children’s’ names on the addresses.
On June 11, Supt. of Schools Linda Savastano said she had provided student directory information – including the names – to the nonprofit Friends of South Kingstown Schools. The information subsequently was sent to a consulting and marketing firm which allegedly provided it to the Rhode Island chapter of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO sent the mailer advocating for passage of an $85 million school facilities bond in South Kingstown. The measure failed overwhelmingly at the polls May 4.
Savastano apologized for not informing the school community before June 11. She also said she made a mistake in not connecting the Friends of SK Schools request with the mailer.
Committee members have heard from both supporters of Savastano, praising her work and leadership during the pandemic, and those who have called for her to either resign or be fired. Critics said they are especially upset that the superintendent initially denied providing directory information. Savastano was not at Tuesday’s meeting.
On May 6, school attorney Andrew Henneous said that in the prior 12 months, two requests for directory information were approved: one was a branch of the military, and the other an SAT preparation firm.
Friends of South Kingstown Schools has removed the person that Savastano said she provided the data to, board member Stacey Bodziony. The Friends organization said it had no knowledge that Bodziony requested the information, nor that it had been received and passed to a third party.
The School Committee decided Tuesday to postpone discussion of Savastano until a special meeting June 28, new chairwoman Paula Whitford said. At its last meeting, the members voted 6-1 not to discuss putting Savastano on leave during the Town Council’s mailer investigation – but that vote came before her June 11 statement.