To the Editor:
I am writing to express alarm about the Middletown Board of Education’s response to concerns that were brought to the Board’s attention by four different unions on October 14th, in a memorandum from the City’s Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, and in detailed allegations that were sent anonymously from 15 current or former employees. I believe the Board of Education members, with the possible exception of members newly elected on November 2nd , have seen the “anonymous” statements detailing very serious allegations – and I am appalled that their response has not demonstrated more urgency.
The allegations include ethical violations involving financial misconduct (e.g. accepting gifts exceeding $50, favorable treatment of particular consultants) that may involve Board of Education members, manipulation / falsification of student performance data, bullying and intimidation of employees, and absolutely shocking, repulsive sexual harassment by the Superintendent. Because Board of Education members may be implicated in some of the alleged ethical/financial misconduct, the investigation of the allegations must be fully transparent.
Certainly those against whom allegations have been made are entitled to due process. However, those who may have been subjected to abusive treatment, as well as the students, teachers and other employees, parents, and all Middletown residents and taxpayers are entitled to transparency and accountability if the allegations are substantiated or 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 of the individuals accused of misconduct on paid administrative leave as recommended by the City’s Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, the Board has allowed them continued access to Board records and data and an opportunity to interact with employees. This presents a 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 that which the Board has seen, placing the accused individuals on paid administrative leave 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.
Secondly, communication on November 1st from the Board to Mayor Florsheim and the Common Council regarding retention of Thompson Hine was misleading if not outright false. At the Common Council meeting that night, the Mayor read a communication that he said he had received while in the Council Chamber announcing the retention of Thompson Hine to conduct the investigation. He went on to emphasize that by selecting an out of state firm with no ties to the Board or City, an independent investigation was assured. Now that the agreement with Thompson Hine has been revealed, we see that in actuality Shipman & Goodwin, the Board’s long term attorneys, engaged Thompson Hine to “assist Shipman in providing legal advice and consultation.” If I were the Mayor or a member of the Common Council, I would be outraged at being misled or lied to and co-opted into publically defending the Board of Education’s actions and commitment to transparency relative to the retention of Thompson Hine at the Council meeting that evening.
A review of Shipman’s agreement with Thompson Hine raises other concerns. For example:
- The agreement clearly states that the work Thompson Hine performs will be confidential, necessary to Shipman’s rendering of legal advice, and regarded as being covered by attorney-client privilege and/or work product doctrine. This sets the stage for the Board of Education to claim it is not subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information law.
- An attorney from Shipman & Goodwin will determine the form of any report of the results of Thompson Hine’s investigation and Thompson Hine may provide an oral report of the findings and conclusions in lieu of a written report. It appears likely such a report will be considered legal advice and not be subject to public disclosure.
Finally, after nearly two weeks I have yet to receive a substantive response to a request for access to public records that I submitted on November 3, 2021 pursuant to CT FOIA. It appears that there is a conscious effort to “keep a lid” on this situation hoping that public interest will wane.
For these reasons, credibility and trust that there will be a full and fair, independent investigation and that the public will know the full truth has been severely damaged by the Board of Education’s handling of the situation so far.
To restore credibility and trust, the Board of Education must immediately take the following actions:
- Place all administrators named in the letter from the City’s Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management on paid administrative leave and restrict their access to school facilities, systems, and employees.
- Ensure that current and former Board 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 telephone and e-mail should be made public.
- Require Thompson Hine to collect written statements, signed and under oath if possible, from any individuals who provide relevant information to them and especially from those accused of misconduct. Statements under oath from individuals who wish to have their identities protected should be given assurance that identities will be protected by Thompson Hine unless disclosure is compelled by a court.
- Require all such written statements to be appended to Thompson Hine’s final report.
- Commit to requiring Thompson Hine to provide a written fact finding report and conclusions at least every two months and at the conclusion of their work.
- Commit to making such reports available to the public.
- Commit that no administrator will be granted a severance package or non-disclosure agreement prior to the public release of Thompson Hine’s final report.
I have great faith that our City government and our community at large will accept and deal effectively with whatever results from a full and fair, independent investigation – whether the allegations are found to be substantiated or found to be unsubstantiated. But unless there is credibility and trust that the full truth has been sought and made public, the allegations will continue to divide our community and Middletown Public Schools.
Gerald E. Daley