Board upholds decision to shun memorial services at Strom
Rockport — The Five-Town Community School District Board voted Wednesday, July 11, to reject a request to allow a memorial service to take place in Strom Auditorium for a well-known community leader. A request was made to hold a memorial service for Ken Bailey, who passed away Tuesday, July 10, because the facility can accommodate more than 800 people.
Dr. Nick Ithomitis, principal of Camden Hills Regional High School, said the school does not have a "policy" about hosting memorial services at its facilities. He explained the decision is at the discretion of the principal.
"I know there's an issue out there with the community," Ithomitis said. He said there had been a "lengthy and lively" discussion about the request to use school facilities for Bailey's service at the July 11 school board meeting after administration initially denied the request.
"Everyone on the board saw both sides," he said, "[Saying no] was the best hard decision to make."
Ithomitis explained that the school has taken the position that funerals and memorial services are "hard to have at the school." He said hosting funerals at the school "somewhat sensationalizes issues to kids."
Ithomitis said the decision to reject the request — which was upheld by a 5-3 vote with one member absent and another abstaining at the school board meeting — "was not one of insensitivity." Instead, he explained, it was one of "sensitivity towards the students."
Five Town CSD Board member Robert Lawson said the discussion at the July 11 meeting was a difficult one.
"It was definitely one of the most heart-wrenching discussions I've participated in on the board," Lawson said. "Everybody could understand both sides of the discussion."
Lawson ultimately voted to uphold past practices by rejecting the request to hold Bailey's memorial at Strom Auditorium. He said the powerful desire to honor Bailey and support his family was met with the need to "maintain some semblance of equity." Lawson said other requests to hold memorials and funerals at Strom Auditorium have been denied and breaking that practice ultimately felt like a disservice to those whose requests had been denied in the past.
"The board and administration was in an awkward and difficult position," Lawson said.
Ithomitis also said it would be difficult to give the green light to one service and say no to another.
"I don't place a value on an individual life versus another individual life," he said. "We don't bring [funerals] into the school."
Ithomitis said he has not received any direct requests to hold funerals at the school prior to this week. He said Strom Auditorium was the venue for a staff member's memorial service in 2005, but that the decision had been made far in advance and administrators later decided not to use Strom for gatherings of a funereal nature again. According to previously published reports, other requests have been made — and denied — in the last several years.
Edmund Hartt of Lincolnville voted in favor of honoring the request to hold Bailey's service at the Strom. He said some of the reasoning — including discussion of a rash of suicides that plagued the high school nearly a decade ago — did not resonate with him.
"My contention was that Ken Bailey is not a student," Hartt said. He said certain factors, like the fact that school is not in session now, should have been considered.
"There are a lot of nuances that could have been looked at but were not," He said.
He said, as a member of the board, he supports every decision it makes, but feels that in this particular case, "[Principal Nick Ithomitis] should have said yes."
Hartt also serves as the chairman of Lincolnville Central School Board and said the board and principal of LCS would have agreed to host Bailey's service if a request was made to use the school facility.
Ithomitis said July 13 that he had received two phone calls in regard to the school board's decision against hosting the funeral. He said both callers were reasonable and understood his explanation of the decision, though they both originally contacted him to ask for a reconsideration or clarification of the decision.
According to a portion of Camden Hills Regional High School website dedicated to Strom Auditorium, the facility "belongs to the people of Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport." The website states that while "the Camden Hills Regional High School and its associated programs have first priority of use, whether students are the performers or the audience. Second priority for use includes all other public schools in the five town region. In addition, the School Board wishes to make the auditorium available to organizations, municipal groups or individuals within the district who wish to sponsor appropriate civil, cultural, educational, recreational or political activities as long as these activities do not interfere with the conduct of the school programs and are in the best interest of the school system."
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.