For the publisher:
I am writing to express my concern about the Middletown School Board’s response to concerns that were brought to the Board’s attention by four different unions on October 14th.e, in a memorandum from the city’s director of equal opportunities and diversity management, and in detailed allegations that were sent anonymously by 15 current or former employees. I believe that the members of the Board of Education, with the possible exception of the newly elected members on November 2sd , saw the “anonymous” statements detailing very serious allegations – and I am dismayed that their response did not demonstrate more urgency.
The allegations include ethical violations involving financial misconduct (e.g., acceptance of gifts exceeding $ 50, favorable treatment of particular consultants) that may involve members of the Board of Education, manipulation / tampering with data on student performance, bullying and intimidation of employees and absolutely shocking and disgusting sexual harassment. by the superintendent. Since members of the Board of Education may be involved in some of the allegations of ethical / financial misconduct, the investigation of the allegations should be fully transparent.
Those against whom allegations have been made are certainly entitled to due process. However, those who may have been subjected to abuse, as well as students, teachers and other employees, parents and all residents and taxpayers of Middletown have a right to transparency and accountability whether the allegations are founded or if other wrongdoing is uncovered. All deserve a full and fair independent investigation with full transparency.
Unfortunately, the response I have seen from the Board of Education so far has been incompetent, or corrupt, or both.
By failing to place all those accused of misconduct on paid administrative leave as recommended by the city’s Director of Equal Opportunities and Diversity Management, the council allowed them to have continued access to the records. and board data and the ability to interact with employees. This has the potential to destroy or alter evidence, influence potential witnesses, and otherwise interfere with the investigation. In the case of allegations of misconduct as serious as the ones the Commission has seen, placing the accused on administrative leave with pay is, I believe, standard practice in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation. Allowing the superintendent to take voluntary leave is insufficient if he retains access to school facilities, systems and employees.
Second, the communication of November 1st from the board of directors to Mayor Florsheim and the town council regarding the retention of Thompson Hine was misleading, if not outright bogus. At the town council meeting that evening, the mayor read a communication he said he received while in the council chamber announcing the retention of Thompson Hine to conduct the investigation. He went on to point out that by selecting an out-of-state company with no connection to the board of directors or the city, an independent investigation was ensured. Now that the deal with Thompson Hine has been revealed, we see that in reality Shipman & Goodwin, the long-term lawyers on the board, have hired Thompson Hine to “assist Shipman in providing legal advice and consultation.” . If I were the mayor or a member of the town council, I would be outraged that I had been misled or lied to and co-opted to publicly defend the actions and the school board’s commitment to transparency regarding keeping Thompson Hine in office. the board meeting. that night.
A review of Shipman’s deal with Thompson Hine raises further concerns. For example:
- The agreement clearly states that the work performed by Thompson Hine will be confidential, necessary for the provision of legal advice by Shipman, and considered to be covered by solicitor-client privilege and / or work product doctrine. This paves the way for the Board of Education to claim that it is not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
- A Shipman & Goodwin lawyer will determine the form of any report on the results of the Thompson Hine investigation and Thompson Hine may provide an oral report of the findings and conclusions instead of a written report. It seems likely that such a report will be considered legal advice and will not be the subject of public disclosure.
Finally, after almost two weeks, I still have not received a substantial response to a request for access to public documents that I submitted on November 3, 2021 in accordance with CT FOIA. It appears that there is a conscious effort to “keep a lid” on this situation in the hope that the public interest will weaken.
For these reasons, the credibility and confidence that there will be a full and fair and independent investigation and that the public will know the full truth have been severely damaged by the Board of Education’s handling of the situation so far. .
To restore credibility and trust, the school board should immediately take the following steps:
- Place all administrators named in the letter from the city’s Director of Equal Opportunities and Diversity Management on paid administrative leave and restrict their access to school facilities, systems and employees.
- To ensure that current and former Council employees and members of the public have access to Thompson Hine for the purpose of providing relevant information in a confidential setting and manner. The most direct means of accessing Thompson Hine regarding the investigation by phone and email should be made public.
- Require Thompson Hine to collect written statements, signed and sworn if possible, from anyone who provides them with relevant information and in particular from those accused of misconduct. Affidavits by individuals who want their identity protected must be assured that the identity will be protected by Thompson Hine, unless disclosure is ordered by a court.
- Require that all such written statements be appended to Thompson Hine’s final report.
- Commit to requiring Thompson Hine to provide a written investigation report and conclusions at least every two months and upon completion of his work.
- Commit to making these reports accessible to the public.
- Commit that no director will be granted severance pay or a nondisclosure agreement before the public release of Thompson Hine’s final report.
I have no doubts that our municipal government and our community as a whole will accept and deal effectively with all the results of a full and fair independent investigation, whether the allegations are founded or unfounded. But unless there is credibility and confidence that the whole truth has been researched and made public, the allegations will continue to divide our community and Middletown Public Schools.
Gerald E. Daley