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News & Views - Feb, 1996 Issue #38 

By: Tom Bratter, President The John Dewey Academy
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

On December 19, 1995 at 3:40 A.M., The John Dewey Academy was confronted by a fire. There were no injuries. The fire was confined to one classroom. There is significant smoke damage. The clean-up estimate is less than $100,000.00, restoration should be $50,000.00. 

Dean of Studies, Kenneth Steiner, states, " We were lucky. While the fire alarm signaled danger, when the alarm company called to verify, a student mentioned there was no cause for concern. Instead, a policeman driving by noticed the flames. The Great Barrington Fire Department responded promptly. There was minimal water damage. Fire fighters exercised much care to protect the 110 year old Searles Castle, listed in the Register of Historic Landmarks, whose architect was Stanford White." 

Carol Maxym, Dean of Students, observes, " Students vacated the building immediately. Quite understandably, there was fear. Initially, some students wanted to leave, though none did. 

Six hours after the fire was started, there was a rumor that John Dewey would close. Tom Bratter made a counter proposal, 'If you choose to stay, the school will remain open.' Students have bonded by helping each other to cope with this traumatic event. It has been gratifying to watch students help each other in their time of fear. Classes were held the next day, so business continues as usual. There is reason to believe the fire was started by a student or former student. Amazingly, students are not accusing each other of being the perpetrator." 

Thomas Edward Bratter, President, "I will demand the perpetrator(s) be charged with attempted murder. Any premedicated act which jeopardizes the safety and right to life of others is a violent sadistic act of terrorism which should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Incredibly, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has performed a perfunctory investigation. I am outraged this act of arson has the same priority of a barn burning! When the District Attorney ignored three phones and two faxes, his secretary told me he was involved in a murder case. Not so politely I responded, I wanted to prevent a mass murder. How Troopers can continue to ignore this terrifying reality, that lives of students and fire fighters could be lost, boggles my mind. Governor Weld has ignored my letter of protest to him! I held a press conference in a desperate effort to force the Fire Marshals to investigate." 

Bratter continues, " What infuriates me is the continuing cavalier reaction of the Fire Marshals who confidently predicted the criminal would be apprehended a month ago. They have no credibility. I lack confidence this case will be resolved. The entire school has pledged cooperation. For reasons which I do not understand, our staff has been excluded from the investigation. We ranked the students from 'most likely' to 'least likely' but the Fire Marshals have ignored this list because they have asked no questions. 

"My reaction to this act of arson is not anger directed toward either the criminal or the State for a lackadaisical investigation but instead gratitude no one was injured and to the volunteer fire department who acted competently and compassionately." 

Copyright 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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