State clears Fisher Hill principal, who remains on leave

  • Fisher Hill School in Orange.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/26/2018 4:48:21 PM

ORANGE — The state investigation into Fisher Hill Elementary School Principal Maureen Donelan and other staffers has been completed and the three claims of neglect and one claim of physical abuse were all deemed unsupported, according to letters sent to Donelan from the state Department of Children and Families.

While Donelan, and the three other staff members charged with similar allegations, have been cleared, she and those staff members remain on paid leave, the principal said Monday. The DCF letter was dated Nov. 2.

Mahar Regional School District Superintendent Tari Thomas said there are still additional ongoing local investigations of staff conduct.  She said in a statement the district is still investigating the allegations of misconduct, which appear related to parent concerns about extreme behaviorial outbursts in kindergarten and first grade. The district has been cooperating with DCF and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, she said. 

“In addition, we have hired a substitute principal with an extensive background in special education and administration to assist staff and families in meeting our district’s motto ‘Every Student, Every Day,’” Thomas said in her emailed statement.

Investigations are still ongoing both internally and with DESE, along with reviewing complaints from individual families, Thomas added. She chose not to comment on whether these were the reasons the four staff members remain on paid leave, on whether there are potential effects of the te completed and cleared DCF investigations and on whether there is any timeline for when the internal investigation will conclude. 

DESE has been contacted to confirm the status of the investigation, but the agency by policy does not confirm or deny an investigation. 

The letter from DCF, which is one of the investigating parties into the allegations that have created a schism in the school district as parents and teachers have come forward to support Donelan, states that “further provision of services is not necessary at this time.” 

A spokesperson from DCF independently confirmed the investigation is now completed. Details and results of the investigation, by law, are confidential, a DCF official said. 

In a statement released by Donelan’s lawyer,  she says she met with DCF investigators on Oct. 25 and school officials on Nov. 6, and she said she does not understand why she remains on paid leave. 

According to Donelan, she was placed on leave Oct. 3 and then about a month later, DCF cleared her of the allegations, according to the letters from the state agency. “Children at Fisher Hill were never in danger, abused or neglected,” she said in her statement.

Donelan added that the letter Thomas sent out to families, which began the heavy public discussion of the matter, “unnecessarily frightened people,” leading to “lots of rumors, speculation and false information.” 

Last week, about 30 people showed up at an Orange School Committee and vocalized their concerns with the culture in the kindergarten classrooms at Fisher Hill. The parents and teachers, who spoke for about 90 minutes during public comment, detailed classrooms with evacuations, disruptions and violence. One mother of a kindergartner, Tonia Goguen, said her daughter is “petrified.” 

The comments reflected a need to bring back a fourth kindergarten classroom, which had been cut this year by Thomas, to allow for smaller class sizes.

“These are behaviors that we were keeping under control until staff was placed on leave,” Donelan said in her release Monday. “I am confident we can regain control of the situation as soon as the staff is returned to work.” 

Since Donelan has gone on leave, Thomas has decided to restore a fourth kindergarten class. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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