PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, FEB. 21, 2013) — Do you think the situation in the Pittsfield Public Schools is what they lead you to believe? For example, here’s the PPS official drug policy:


For the purposes of this handbook, the term drug includes a controlled drug, a look-alike drug, prescription medicines, volatile substances, and alcoholic beverages. Any student who uses, possesses, distributes, sells, or otherwise furnishes alcoholic beverages, drugs, or drug paraphernalia in any of the following circumstances: while on school property, on a school-provided transportation vehicle, at a designated school transportation stop, at a school-sponsored activity which is not on school property, or any activity under the jurisdiction of the school department, shall be referred to the appropriate school administrator for disciplinary action. Such an offense can range from short-term suspension to expulsion. Violations may also constitute a criminal act. All cases where drugs or suspected materials are seized will be reported to law enforcement authorities.

The school system and the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse shall provide alcohol and drug abuse prevention education for students in grades 6 though 12. The school system will extend to students and their families the opportunity to utilize community-based substance abuse treatment programs or counseling services.

THE PLANET asks you: How does that square up with this letter, sent to us from the parent of a Taconic High School student. The student is a 15-year-old freshman.

“My daughter and I recently had a talk about drugs. She’s 15 and at that age where she’s starting to “act 15.” She’s a good girl, hasn’t partaken of drugs, and only recently did I find out she tasted her first beer. During our talk, she told me about intense peer pressure to drink and to “do drugs.” I told her that she could come to me with any problems and that she could go to the school, teachers, principals, etc. She laughed at that. When I asked her, she said that not a day goes by that she doesn’t witness a sale or exchange of drugs in front of the locker rooms (usually) or in another place such as a bathroom or locker room. I asked her about the literalness of her statement: “not a day goes by”?

She said, yes, literally, she sees at least one drug deal a day. When I asked her about the school’s zero tolerance policy, she said, “Ma, every kid I know is either [doing drugs] or drinking or both.” She said this activity is conducted on the school grounds and off, at parties. She also says that students routinely smoke on the school grounds, in back of THS, in the open. Teachers, administrators, police all know about this activity but nothing is done. As my daughter puts it, “What are they going to do? Expel everyone?”

I am heartsick and so frustrated over this situation. I don’t know how to protect her. I have gone to the administration and reported this to the school board. They were condescending and did not really have time to take me seriously. I know that nothing will be done. You [THE PLANET] are the only one who dares report the truth about what’s happening in the schools. That’s why I’m sending you this letter. The Eagle did not publish a similar one I recently sent. I guess it doesn’t fit in with the school department, the school board, the teachers, and the mayor want us to believe. Well too bad. I know I speak for a lot of other concerned parents. Thank you for letting me vent.

(signed) A Concerned Taconic Mom

—– 00 —–

For the $90 million that taxpayers sent each year to the PPS, you think Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski  would at least get truth in advertising. For too long, the PPS has been allowed to operate “outside the law,” with little or no accountability.


Is it in the cards? We have learned long ago not to raise any such false hopes with this imminent hiring. We only have history as a guide, which strongly suggests the school board will not dare hire a true reformer. It will likely look for someone who can do the old razzle-dazzle in public but behind the scenes not rock the boat. If this happens, the current malignancy, which has been present for some years, will continue to metastasize.

—– 00 —–

While were at it, look at this section of the student handbook:


The following acts may result in denial of the privilege to ride the bus:

• Profanity on school buses • Fighting or other aggressive physical behavior • Smoking on school buses • Lewd or lascivious conduct • Unnecessary distraction of the driver • Destruction of any bus property [restitution will be the parents’ or guardians’ financial responsibility] • Violation of rules for safety on school buses • Any act which interferes with the safe and orderly transportation of students • Possession of weapons or drugs.

This week during school vacation, THE PLANET had a chance to speak with students from both high school and middle schools in Pittsfield. When we read the above policy to them, we heard snickers and hoots. The kids know this printed policy is a joke, and when we asked for examples, each one of these violations was mentioned. All of these violations have occurred. Many have been reported. Yet not one student, that we know of, has had to deal with the consequences. Most students on busses are well-behaved, but the few who aren’t are raising havoc, with immunity.

Finally, here’s the section on student attire:


Personal appearance is an individual matter. No one, however, has the privilege of disregarding the norms of reasonable dress. Attire that could interfere with the learning process is not allowed. Students will be counseled on an individual basis if their attire is improper. Parents will be contacted if there is a question regarding a student’s attire. Clothing must always conform to safety standards of the particular class. The following dress code was drawn up by a committee of parents, teachers, administrators, and students:

• Hooded jackets or sweatshirts with drawstrings cannot be worn on or around play or work equipment. • Clothing is to be clean and neat without holes or tears. • The bottom of the top overlaps the top of the bottoms. • Spandex and Lycra are acceptable only when worn over or under less revealing garments.

• Obscene, vulgar, racist, sexist or other offensive pictures, words, or slogans are prohibited. • Hemlines of skirts or shorts must fall below fingertips when arms are relaxed at sides. • Shoes/sandals must be worn at all times. • Hats (caps, berets, scarves) of a non-religious nature may not be worn in the school.

• Undergarments should not be visible. • Any other dress that distracts, disrupts, intimidates or provokes can be deemed inappropriate by the principal or designee. Coats/jackets should be kept in student lockers unless conditions warrant otherwise.

Having been many times inside both high schools for meetings or to do TV/radio shows, and having seen PHS students traipsing about off campus during lunch time, again, we have seen every one of these offending items violated. Again, we are not aware of one case where a student faced serious consequences.

For “drug and tobacco,” the “transportation,” and “dress,” in the Pittsfield Public Schools  has neat-sounding policies. The codes, though, are ignored. The pretense toward discipline and control makes PPS a $90 million joke.

We “get it,” but few of us are laughing.


“We cannot know how much we learn / From those who never will return, / Until a flash of unforseen / Remembrance falls upon what has been.”E. A. Robinson





  1. dusty
    February 21, 2013 at 2:18 am #

    Perhaps if they paid the principals and guidance counselors a decent wage they would make more of an effort.

    heh heh

  2. FPR
    February 21, 2013 at 5:24 am #

    Ah yes, I remember when I went to Taconic. We were allowed to smoke in the back entry way to the school. On really cold days in winter they would let us in the back lobby near the auditorium (if I remember right – its been while) to smoke in there.

    Everyone who was anyone would be out back in the morning.

    Drugs, yeah they were there. Mostly marijuana and some cocaine. Crack was not around then. When they say “peer pressure”, I don’t recall its was problem. If someone lit up a joint and passed it to you and you said no, it was no big deal. No one hassled you.

    I don’t remember a dress code. At that time, I don’t think kids dressed a wild as they do now. Long hair on men was in then. Earrings in men were just coming out but considered pretty radical for that time. Most other kids would have thought you were gay if you got one.

    Somehow we got through it all. We all learned to read and write and mathematics. (still have no use for algebra).

    Our yearbook’s theme was “We’ve only just begun”. A Karen Carpenter song.

    I have heard the place is getting more and more run like a prison now. Seems like drugs are everywhere in today’s society. Not just in schools. Its all over the USA. Dress? Look at how people dress in general now everywhere. Seems like kids today don’t learn a thing. Scanners ring up your groceries. I still remember when people rang up sales using keys on the register.

    I still firmly believe it is up to the parents who have children to educate them.

    “welcome to this place, I’ll show you everything”
    “with arms wide open”
    — creed

  3. ordinary citizen
    February 21, 2013 at 6:19 am #

    my son too has witnessed many drug & alcohol goings on at the school the teachers watch its out of control but like the other child says what will they do ?? expel everyone ??

    • Scott
      February 22, 2013 at 4:34 am #

      Just use those people as examples of what not to do and encourage your child to strive academically. That’s all you can do.

  4. Scott
    February 21, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    How about someone able to get a student on the condition of anonymity to video record a drug transaction on school property???

    • Ed Shepardson
      February 21, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      I think it’s a given that there are drug transactions at Taconic and every other school for that matter. I’m not trying to downplay that but I think it is important to remember OUR behavior during our high school years. Wouldn’t want to see a video of some of my finest moments from the sixties. Our mandatory school zone drugs laws probably hurt control on campus.. What reasonable high school teacher wants to see a kid go away for 2 years for selling a joint? So they overlook rather than enforce. I know it happened in Great Barrington a few years ago. The kids at Monument were warned of an impending drug sweep by the teachers. The dog found no drugs in school that day.

      • Scott
        February 21, 2013 at 11:03 am #

        Yeah but are we just talking about weed? It was like that when I was in school too. According to the kid that worked for me last summer you can get whatever you want at Taconic.

        • Ed Shepardson
          February 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

          Certainly LSD was available in high school in the sixties. Heroin probably. And lots and lots of alcohol. Fatal doses of alcohol in many cases. Scott, if you’re 20 years younger than I am, there was probably cocaine in your school. It’s a tough battle for any generation, but that mandatory sentencing makes it tougher. Kids don’t think about that risk, but the teachers and administrators do.

          • Scott
            February 22, 2013 at 4:36 am #

            I do not not remember any coke or LSD we were all pot heads didn’t see that other stuff until I hit the streets out on my own and I stayed the f away from that stuff.

  5. Joe Blow
    February 21, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    A few weeks ago a teacher was caught buying/doing dope at a Cheshire school.

  6. Joe Pinhead
    February 21, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    So I understand the premise and just to be clear; we don’t want to hold “the children” to a set of standards developed by the administration ratified by the board and set forth as the ground rules because people might have consequences staff doesn’t agree with?
    With all due respect others keep their children in school because they believe there are rules and they will be enforced thus allowing for equal educational access not equal access to drugs.
    Yes what we did in school may have been the same or worse but to use that logic 175 years ago slavery was OK have we not evolved?
    It is not up to the teachers or any other staff member to play judge every time they cut one kid a break they cut another’s throat.
    If we don’t like or agree with the policy as written and to be enforced address the school committee or administration for change or pull your child out for a district that condones openly that behavior
    Make a choice don’t hope someone else will for you. Take responcibility for your child’s future

    Just sayin

    • Scott
      February 21, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      Personal responsibility what’s that!

    • Ed Shepardson
      February 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      Joe, not saying it’s OK for teachers to see no evil. To the contrary, I believe these little secrets worsen if they are kept secret. The more that parents know about what goes on in school, the better. I, for one, would not want to be the teacher responsible for sending an 18 year old kid to jail for two years for selling his friend a joint.

      • Joe Pinhead
        February 21, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

        Ed I for one wouldn’t want to see a kid sell another a joint or a beer and then see the kid kill himself or someone else. I think teachers are compensated fairly for making a call any normal citizen would. If they can’t stomach it fine teachers are not conscripted are they?

        • Ed Shepardson
          February 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

          Two years in jail Joe?.And generally, kids don’t die from smoking pot. They drive really, really slow, eat a lot and go to sleep. And teachers don’t get to make the call with mandatory sentencing. That’s the problem.

          • Joe Pinhead
            February 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

            Ed, I agree with your statement but it is only half true. First the statements made were all sorts of drugs were available not simply pot. And I well cede your point regarding driving slowly. In general actions and reactions will be slowed or impaired please think back on how many time a quick reaction was needed to avoid an accident. The teachers need to lobby for changes to the sentencing structure if they are not in agreement. What if they don’t agree with say the bullying policy? Still others don’t agree with the cell phone policy? Should we have rules of common conduct for participation in a public arena decided by individuals? Or as a collective should they be decided and implemented? I will go one further on a hunch here, I bet we qualify to get funding to in part pay the teachers based upon a zero tolerance policy being adopted, you can’t or more aptly they can’t have it both ways.

            Just sayin

  7. Outfox
    February 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    “Volatile substances”?

  8. rivetor
    February 21, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    It’s not just marijuana. It’s meth, heroin, crack, ecstasy and a whole pharmacy of dangerous dangerous substances. I wouldn’t put marijuana in that category. My best friend’s wife is a teacher there. She says drug use, sales at THS are out of control.

    Like what Joe P said, the policy has bee ndebated, defined, and put on the books. If its going to be ignored rewrite the policy.

    • Scott
      February 21, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

      At least have supervision, searches and give out second chances but let it be known that type of activity will not be tolerated during school hours. These people are supposed to know this stuff isn’t it their job?

    • FPR
      February 21, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      Everyone seems to be giving marijuana a pass here. However, marijuana is just as illegal as meth, crack, heroin, etc.

      So if they rewrite the policy to say marijuana is a minor offense but other drugs are major, I think the law would have something different to say about that.

      Under Massachusetts laws, a child is not responsible for what he does as a child. Its only when he becomes an adult that he suddenly becomes accountable. I think you magically change on your 17th birthday.

      The problem is societal and has trickled down into the schools. Its not just Taconic but its everywhere. The war on drugs that Nixon started has proven to be a total failure. The US military protects poppy fields in Afghanistan and makes deals with drug lords there, even the Taliban. We supply assault weapons to drug cartels in Mexico and other countries.

      Yet we want to punish 10th graders severely when it trickles down into their hands.

      • Scott
        February 22, 2013 at 4:40 am #

        Marijuana is decriminalized here and legal for medicinal use however that doesn’t extend to distribution. No on is giving it a pass just pointing out it’s the least of our problems if that’s all we had to worry about when our kids went to school that would be a relief. It doesn’t belong in school either and students caught with it should have it confiscated and be disciplined. The real issue is lack of supervision. I can see why a teacher wouldn’t want to turn a student in you have a DA’s office here that will try anyone unless of course your a violent criminal affiliated with a motorcycle gang and even then you may just get away with murder.

  9. Ed Shepardson
    February 22, 2013 at 5:21 am #

    • FPR
      February 22, 2013 at 5:50 am #

      Wow, that story is pretty powerful Ed.
      Sure doesn’t sound like decriminalization to me.
      Glad those policies were not in effect when I went to Taconic.

    • Scott
      February 22, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Yet child molesters and violent criminals get 6 months to a year and are out to re-offend. I have heard of the military industrial complex but I have never heard of law enforcement referenced in that manner. It is true the militarization of our police force is a serious threat to freedom. But there you go a law poorly written with good intentions oversteps and destroys the lives of people it wasn’t written to prosecute. I always think of the typically drug pusher with hard drugs hanging around a school zone pushing heavy drugs “hey kid try this out” those are the people the law was written to protect our children from not put them in jail!

  10. Ron Kitterman
    February 22, 2013 at 5:54 am #!/photo.php?v=1873477365613&set=vb.1501547892&type=2&theater

    This game show question sort of sums it up with the top 5 answers on the board interesting how a joint was ahead of the collection plate of something we pass around….

  11. Joe Pinhead
    February 22, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    There is also a much larger issue here as well, I was waiting to seeif it was going to be brought up. What do we do about a supposed newspaper that wwon’t print an important letter just because it doesn’t fit its agenda?
    I suggest you refrain from using the services and patronizing the stores that advertise in it. If you inform those that do advertise why you will no longer be using them they will put pressure on the bird to change in a manner that more reflects the values of the greater community.

    Just sayin

    • Ed Shepardson
      February 22, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      The letter was not signed here. If it was sent to the Eagle unsigned, they would not run it.

      • danvalenti
        February 22, 2013 at 8:17 am #

        According to the writer, the letter sent in to the Eagle was signed. She asked that I not print her name if THE PLANET ran it.

        • Ed Shepardson
          February 22, 2013 at 9:08 am #

          That’s odd. Why get cold feet on the Planet?

      • Joe Pinhead
        February 22, 2013 at 8:19 am #

        True it was not signed here we have no idea if it was or was not at the bird. Regardless an issue that has reached this level should have been reported upon and discussed as part of the obligation the bird has to the community to keep us informed so we can talk to our elected and appointed officials in a meaning full way. You know that whole 4th pillar nonsense.
        I can see I’m going to need a full size keyboard for this phone.

        Just sayin

        • Ed Shepardson
          February 22, 2013 at 9:13 am #

          It’s old news. Drugs of all kinds have been used and sold in schools for decades. Why is everyone so surprised and shocked now?

        • Ed Shepardson
          February 22, 2013 at 9:14 am #

          It’s old news. Decades old.

        • danvalenti
          February 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

          THE PLANET knows the identity of the letter writer. She asked that it not be revealed on THE PLANET. It might a sign of our growing exposure in the community. More qualified people would see here name here than in the BB.

  12. Ed Shepardson
    February 22, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    And my double post makes one of them old news too.

  13. another observer
    February 22, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    great attention brought to a dire issue here in our schools, however, i remember taconic high school and i can tell you a few things. #1 Like fpr said if someone lit up a joint and passed it to you and you said no it was passed by you and that was usually that.#2 Anyone CAUGHT drinking, or posessing alcohol was punished immediately. #3 Other drugs were around and someone in school can almost always get anything asked for, however the biggest most common practice was kids with add, and scripts of ritalin were selling them to anyone who would buy em, Teenagers are smarter than u think, they talk in codes, cell phones used to warn people of impending authoritry figures intentions. And Please parents, when you tell your children to go to the teachers and staff about drug activity, know that if the other kids figure it out, your child becomes a target of other kids in the school. Its best to say nothing and keep to yourself, ive personally seen that play out and it never bodes well for the person who tells the staff. And i can tell you that in high school with a very diverse group of friends that at one time or another I was offered everything under the sun from adderall to x- tacy, and i never did any of it It takes a strong constitution to stand your ground but it can be done, I do remember Mcnally sweeping a few offenses of prominate students under the rug.. but only if you played sports, right doug?

    • danvalenti
      February 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

      We welcome your information and input.

  14. GMHeller
    February 25, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Mr. Valenti,

    If you could encourage your readers to send in actual cell-phone photos taken by their student offspring witnessing these drug transactions as they take place (of course blurring out the faces of buyers and sellers before publication), it would certainly have the effect of dramatically raising local awareness of this issue.
    It might even force the local schools to take real responsive action, at least moreso than what is occurring at present.
    Lest we forget: a bunch of Great Barrington kids were put through the legal wringer for just these same kinds of drug transactions a few years back in the Triplex parking lot.
    Why are the Triplex kids more deserving of legal consequences than the dealers at Taconic High School?

    • Ed Shepardson
      February 26, 2013 at 7:09 am #

      The busts in the Taconic parking lot were the end result of numerous complaints by the neighboring business community.
      Squeeky wheel gets the grease.