Just the facts, ma’am

Melissa Stagnaro

It was with a heavy heart that I wrote my Norwich City School articles for today’s paper. I penned first the Notice of Claim and then the Thomas Knapp interview before trying to get some sleep. I was fairly certain of the type of response these pieces would elicit and I’ll admit, it kept me up much of the night.

Because of legal constraints, the Norwich City School District was unable to respond to the allegations against them. My coverage is, therefor, decidedly one-sided. I don’t like that. It feels biased, even to me. I am glad that I have this forum to express my thoughts on the matter.

First, I’d like to thank Tom Knapp for granting me the opportunity for an interview. When he gave me his phone number at the August 19 board meeting, I thought I would be lucky to get a comment or two. I never dreamed that he would be willing to speak so candidly and at such length.

He was so open, in fact, that I was left wondering if his lawyer knew he was speaking to me. I think probably not.

But I was honored that this man, who is so well-loved and respected by the students and staff at Norwich High School, chose to speak with me. It was a gift, as Adrian Monk might say, but also a curse.

After reading the Notice of Claim (which I believe Jeff is planning to post on the site), I was left with a lot of questions. While my conversation with Knapp answered some of them, I hung up the phone with even more buzzing around my brain.

I have heard so many rumors as I’m sure have all of you. And I feel like it is my responsibility to help separate fact from myth for our readers. But that is difficult because of the very nature of a Notice of Claim.

As the first step in bringing litigation against a district, any and all allegations that may be named later have to be enumerated. The claims made are just that–claims. There is no proof or evidence attached. A read of the document yields references that the allegations made are based “upon information and belief” and what so-and-so said “in substance.” Remember if and when you read the document that none of the allegations have been substantiated at this point.

Despite his assertions, I just have a hard time believing that Tom Knapp has absolutely no idea what prompted the superintendent to call for a medical review under section 913 of the state education law.

Regardless of your personal feelings, if you have spoken to Gerard O’Sullivan you know he is an intelligent man. Legal counsel was present at the meeting in May where Knapp was suspended, so it can not be said that O’Sullivan acted alone.

I won’t sit here and poke holes in either Knapp’s story or the Notice of Claim. That is for the lawyers on both sides to work through. But I do ask that you remember there are two sides to this as there is to every story.

One of Tom Knapp’s claims is that the district has denied him the right of due process. If you read Knapp’s interview and the notice of claim and convict the district, the school board and O’Sullivan based on their contents alone; you are committing the same crime.

At this point, the matter is destined for the courts. Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop it from being tried in the forum of public opinion long before it ever sees a judge.