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Online petition calls for 'due process' amid Middletown schools harassment, retaliation allegations

The Board of Education chairwoman said members take their responsibility to review and respond to the allegations very seriously.

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — Parents and residents in Middletown are signing an online petition asking for "due process" in addressing the allegations of workplace harassment, retaliation and intimidation at the hands of Central Office Senior Management made by several unions representing public school employees.

The online petition stems from allegations that were first brought to the public’s attention last month by four Middletown education labor unions representing more than 1,000 district employees.

At a Common Council meeting on Oct. 14, union representatives presented a letter signed by SPEU Local 6457, AFSCME Local 466, the Middletown Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1381, and the Middletown Federation of Paraeducators, Local 3161.

The letter said in part, "We have lost many valued employees with dedicated years of service who have gone to other districts and in some cases for less pay. This exodus ultimately puts our students' learning opportunities at risk."

RELATED: Middletown Schools superintendent granted leave of absence

In response to the allegations, the city's Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management conducted a review and listed specific examples of behavior that was learned about in a letter sent to the Board of Education chairwoman.

Ultimately, the city does not have jurisdiction over Board of Education staff; however, the director of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management office, Faith Jackson, recommended the Board of Education consider putting those people "instrumental in the creation of a hostile work environment" on paid administrative leave until the matter can be investigated by an outside firm.

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If that's not feasible, Jackson recommended at least the superintendent be placed on paid leave until the investigation is complete.

“We want a complete outside investigation which means I don’t think the board of education should be involved. I think the common council, mayor, our state department of education needs to take over," said parent Apryl Desjardins.

In response to the allegations, Superintendent of Schools Michael Conner was granted a leave of absence on Oct. 18.

RELATED: Middletown school bus carrying high school students hit by falling powerlines

Middletown Board of Education Chairwoman Deborah Cain released this statement last Friday:

"Communication with our employees, unions and our community at large is very important to the Middletown Board of Education, and we regret that there appears to be inaccurate speculation about the status of the Board’s investigation. We assure you that the safety of our employees and students is of paramount importance. 

To that end, we want to dispel rumors that have been most distressing to our community and confirm that the Board is responding expeditiously to the serious allegations brought against the members of the administration. 

As previously communicated, the Middletown Board of Education takes very seriously its responsibility to review and respond to the allegations raised by the coalition of unions and anonymous persons submitted to the Board on the afternoon of October 14, 2021, as well as the letter from the City, alleging a hostile work environment. 

To that end, the Board has solicited and received several proposals from outside investigators and is in the final stages of selecting the investigator. We will retain the outside investigator in the next few days, and will communicate its decision once it is final. 

In anticipation of that decision, today I authorized the Board’s legal counsel to communicate with the coalition of unions to discuss the Board’s anticipated next steps. We are acting as quickly as we can. 

As you know, we consider personnel matters to be confidential, and we have no further comment on these matters at this time. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we move forward with addressing these serious matters."

As of Monday at 12 p.m., nearly 300 people have signed the petition on change.org.

Angelo Bavaro is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at abavaro@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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