Residents petitioning for removal of district superintendent

VICTOR — An investigation is being conducted into a controversial poetry book a group of Victor Senior High School students created last fall that includes passages many people find highly offensive.

At the same time, residents not satisfied with the way the matter has been handled by the district are calling for the removal of Superintendent Dawn Santiago-Marullo.

Lt. Brad Falkey, an Ontario County Sheriff's Department investigator, confirmed Monday a complaint has been filed with the department, but declined to name the complainant.

He said the department received a copy of the book, “Super Team Haiku,” Monday.

“We're going to thoroughly review it and discuss our findings with the district attorney's office,” Falkey said.

In the meantime, someone named Kevin Williams of Victor has started an online petition at change.org calling for the removal of the district superintendent. The Daily Messenger was unable to reach Williams, but his petition had 27 supporters as of Thursday afternoon.

Williams wrote that the content in the book — one of three haiku books allegedly created by students — contained defamatory, racist, obscene and bullying content in violation of school policies related to diversity, civility and safety. He says students were cited by name, some encouraged to commit suicide and many disparaged for their sexual orientation. Williams further claims the book was produced by students on school grounds, bound, published and sold on Amazon.com.

“The work is replete with bigoted, hateful and destructive comments,” he wrote.

The petition, created Saturday, claims Santiago-Marullo violated several provisions of the district's conduct code, including maintaining a climate of mutual respect and dignity for all; providing adequate supervision in all school spaces; and addressing issues of harassment or situations threatening the physical health or safety of any student, employee or other person lawfully on school property.

Santiago-Marullo did not respond to requests for comments, but the district did release a response to the book May 25, agreeing the material was highly inappropriate, but intended to be humorous and satirical, and not to hurt or harm anyone.

“Those students involved with the book have since been disciplined in accordance with the school's code of conduct,” the release says. “With the guidance of our school attorney, the district maintained a balance between First Amendment rights and responsibility regarding published works.”

The district notes the book, which school administrators became aware of in mid-April, was removed from Amazon and that a formal communication of the incident was not sent to district families because student discipline is protected by federal law and the district wanted to avoid sensationalism and disruption by drawing attention to the book.

Dozens of people took to various Facebook accounts and other social media to voice their outrage about the book's content and disapproval of the district's handling of the matter.

Some raised censorship and free speech issues, while others said the disgusting remarks accounted for only about 10 percent of the book and still others called for a criminal investigation and possible civil action.

Iman Abid, interim director of the Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Thursday said her office was looking into the matter to see if any affected families had contacted the organization.

“Students involved in this matter are remorseful and have written a letter of apology,” high school Principal Yvonne O'Shea comments in the district release. “They have learned a valuable lesson on the powers of their words and the magnitude of their digital footprint.”

Falkey expected it would be several days before deputies would present findings to the district attorney's office.