Monessen School Board reverses decision on Chavas Rawlins
Monessen graduate Chavas Rawlins will walk with his senior class at June commencement.
In an abrupt change-of-heart Tuesday, the Monessen School Board unanimously rescinded a previous decision barring Rawlins – who is currently attending classes at West Virginia University – from participating in senior activities, including commencement, during a special meeting at the Monessen Elementary Center.
On Dec. 4, the board voted, 8-1, to allow Rawlins to officially graduate Jan. 18, but amended the motion to state he “will not return for any senior activities or Commencement Exercises.” Maria Scuteri cast the lone “no” vote in December and was the only board member to speak out in opposition during last week's meeting, calling the decision “a travesty.”
Board President Sharon Mauck, who defended the board's December vote last week, declined comment after Tuesday's meeting and said she had to leave quickly, citing a family illness.
“If things were handled differently, I feel that a different answer would've come to fruition,” Mauck told the board and nearly a dozen members of the public in attendance before the reconsideration took place. “We all know how government works sometimes, and unfortunately, we get caught up in that type of thing.
“I don't think there's one person on this board who feels Chavas Rawlins is a bad kid. We pride ourselves in Monessen for our kids to excel. We do not like to hold anyone back and I wish him well in his endeavor.”
The board voted as a group Tuesday; no roll call was taken.
Former school director Roberta Bergstedt praised the board's reversal before it adjourned.
“Thank you for having the courage to admit that maybe there were mistakes made,” Bergstedt told the board. “I appreciate your integrity … and listening to the voices of your constituents.”
Rawlins' mother, Laurie Sutovic, hinted she was relieved she did not have to pursue the issue legally.
“I'm glad they did the right thing because I didn't want to go further with any of this, I have enough going on in my life,” Sutovic said, before letting out a laugh. “I have a lot of people in the city behind me so I think they were afraid for that reason. I'm glad everything turned out OK. I knew it would.”
At last week's regular board meeting, Mauck delivered a stalwart statement, calling the December vote “a standing decision” and asserting the board was only acting upon the recommendations of Rawlins' advisors “to let him go and get him out of this negative environment.”
Mauck said when the board met privately with Rawlins and football coach Andy Pacak in October, the stipulation of not attending graduation was understood by both parties.
“Certainly no one wanted to see this young man in any type of negative light, nor do we want to see our district or anyone involved in a negative light,” board member Lee Johnson said. “Sometimes decisions are made and you have to go back and regroup and rethink decisions. That's where we're at right now.”
Monessen Superintendant Linda Marcolini said after Tuesday's meeting she was not permitted to comment, saying she worked for the board and referred any additional questions to Mauck.
Pacak, who did not attend the meeting, called the board's latest decision “outstanding” during a phone interview.
“If everything in sports can have an instant replay, I believe that after further review, the people on the board who had their hearts in the right place decided to do the right thing,” Pacak said. “My hat's off to them and to Chavas because things are supposed to be done the right way.”
Board members Cindy Pawelec and Amy Bukowski said they both wanted to rescind the motion at last week's meeting, but were “advised legally” they could not.
Bukowski cited her character being questioned because of the previous vote.
“My decision was based on the fact that once (Rawlins) received his diploma in January, he was done,” Bukowski said. “My (lack of) experience on the board came into play at that point. … Had there been further discussion in December, I would have gladly welcomed further discussion. It was never to punish him or anything he did wrong.”
Pawelec added: “I think this has been a learning experience for me, personally, and everyone else. Athletics are a big deal in this town, but I think we're losing sight of academics.”
The two, along with Solicitor John Toohey, indicated the board would soon implement a written policy regarding early graduates.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.