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School Name Still Stings Hingham

Posted by Lisa Crowley  May 28, 2009 03:16 AM

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By L.E. Crowley
Globe Correspondent

As Hingham selectmen seek members for a committee that would create a policy on naming town-owned buildings and properties, bitter feelings and heated opinions continue to surround the School Committee’s decision to name a new elementary school after current Superintendent Dorothy Galo.

“My issue is with the openness of the process,” said James Claypoole, chairman of the veteran’s council. Claypoole suggested that selectmen enact a new policy for the naming of buildings, after the controversy over the school name was sparked nearly two weeks ago.

Claypoole said veterans and parents feel the School Committee snubbed the community in its decision to name the school after Galo and want a clearly outlined process that defines who has authority over what properties, criteria for potential honorees, and flexibility to deal with exceptions, such as a benefactor willing to front thousands or millions or dollars toward a new building, addition, wing, or other town structure.

On Tuesday night, selectmen said they would accept applications from residents and contact individuals who would be suited for the naming committee.

The committee has been set at five members and is expected to explore a bylaw similar to those in Lexington and Concord that outline a process of naming public buildings, hearings rooms, squares, playgrounds and other town-owned properties.

Questions about whether the School Committee or Town Meeting has ultimate authority over the naming of school buildings are likely to be answered by the town’s lawyer, James Toomey, or could feed ample debate at a future Town Meeting.

Several officials said they hoped the new naming committee would clarify any confusion and prevent controversy over future town properties that might need a new name. However, it may not do much to alleviate hard feelings raised by the School Committee’s decision and statements of intent prior to the vote.

Liza O’Reilly, a member of the school’s parent-teacher organization, had been following the naming process and expected the School Committee on May 11 to discuss the new name and not make a decision. The day before, the committee told parents that a decision would be made June 1.

“The town went through such an ordeal to pass the override and this is how we are repaid—shut out of the process,” O’Reilly said. “We needed a name that brought everyone together, instead it’s more controversy."

The School Committee rejected two other options for a new name. A three-member subcommittee recommended the school retain its original title, East Elementary School, and Veterans Service Director Michael Cunningham urged that the new building be named after Herbert Foss, the only soldier from Hingham to have earned the Medal of Honor.

The committee voted 7-0 to name the school after Galo, a lifelong Hingham resident who has been a student, teacher, administrator and superintendent.

Several residents and officials said even if a new naming policy is adopted, it's doubtful much can be done to change the school committee’s decision, except maybe at the ballot box.

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