New Boots AHS

Attleboro High School custodian Tony Coelho, right, hugs senior Jack Sweeney after the senior presented Coelho with a new pair of Timberland boots as a Christmas gift. Coelho has since donated the boots to someone in need.

ATTLEBORO -- A custodian who was given a new pair of boots for Christmas by a group of high school students has decided to donate them to someone else after questions were raised about a potential ethics violation.

School Superintendent David Sawyer and high school Principal Bill Runey said Monday there is no violation of any ethics rule, but the custodian, Antonio “Tony” Coelho, decided to donate the boots to “someone who needs them” because of the uproar.

The boots, which cost $100, had been given to Coelho by a group of students led by high school senior Jack Sweeney, who said he admires Coelho for his positive attitude and the work he does for AHS.

Sweeney and fellow students donated the cash to buy the pair of Timberland boots.

The rule that sparked the hullabaloo was apparently one that prohibits giving gifts worth more than $50 to public employees. The gift was questioned on the Everything Attleboro website.

Sawyer said the rule does not apply to Coelho because the students were not in a position to get any kind of favorable treatment from him.

“There are rules about gifts to public employees under the state’s ethics statute, but they don’t pertain to this situation because the students do not stand to gain a benefit from the gift,” Sawyer said in a statement emailed to The Sun Chronicle.

Runey said it would be different if the recipient was a teacher.

“Teachers have to be concerned about reporting gifts of over $50 because there could be a question of students’ grades being impacted given someone’s generosity,” he said, noting that the school department does not view the gift as a violation of any rule. “Mr. Coelho does not have to disclose this gift. We are respecting Mr. Coelho’s wishes to donate the boots.”

Sweeney presented the boots to Coelho during a lunch period last Thursday. The event overwhelmed Coelho, who’s been employed by the school for 25 years, and was recorded and posted on Facebook.

The story of the gift appeared in the Saturday-Sunday edition of The Sun Chronicle.

Sweeney characterized the uproar as “unfortunate.”

But he’s glad the boots were given to someone else who needed them.

Coelho issued a comment through Runey.

“Christmas is a very special time for kids everywhere, and for the students at Attleboro High School, where I work,” he said. “I am deeply touched by what Jack Sweeney and the other students did on my behalf and am very happy that they support my decision to donate the boots to someone who needs them. We can all share in making someone’s life a little better at this time of year.”

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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