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Fisher Hill staff signs letter supporting principal

  • Fisher Hill School file photo



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 08, 2018

ORANGE — Nearly half of the staff at Fisher Hill Elementary School have signed a letter supporting Principal Maureen Donelan, who seems caught up in a mysterious incident involving “staff misconduct.”

School officials, including Superintendent Tari Thomas, have declined to reveal any details of the alleged incident, and have not even said whether or not Donelan is on paid administrative leave, citing personnel confidentiality. According to Thomas, Donelan is not in charge of the school. An educator named Taryn Dery is acting principal, according to school officials.

“We, the undersigned, stand in full support of and trust in, Principal Maureen Donelan and the staff members affected by recent circumstances at our school,” reads the letter, signed by 38 “members of the Fisher Hill community.” There is no further information about the “circumstances” in question.

The Massachusetts Department of Children and Families confirmed Thursday that it has an ongoing investigating at Fisher Hill, but would not elaborate, citing confidentiality laws. Part of the agency’s mission is keeping children safe from neglect and abuse.

It is unclear who else — and how many — on the staff may be on leave in relation to the investigation, which triggered a letter to parents in late October that briefly referred to alleged misconduct but mostly tried to reassure parents that child safety was a priority at the school.

Donelan has been unreachable for comment.

Of the 38 signers, at least a dozen are teachers of preschool through second grade, as well as administrators, food service employees and other workers at the school. The school’s website lists 71 staff members in its directory, and 31 of them appear to have signed the letter. Signers were unavailable for comment.

Orange Elementary School Committee Chairwoman Stephanie Conrod said she — and, to her knowledge, the other members of the School Committee — received the letter on Wednesday.

However, the letter will not be discussed at the next School Committee meeting, publicly or in executive session, Conrod said. Conrod added she and Thomas have received legal advice not to discuss the alleged misconduct or the letter from school staff.

“I’ve discussed it with Tari, I’ve discussed it with a lawyer, and we can’t even talk about it in executive session,” Conrod said.

Conrod said she acknowledges that the lack of public information regarding the investigation and principal’s absence has been “frustrating for a lot of people, but there are reasons.”

“Until the findings are released, there’s still an investigation,” said Conrod, adding that it’s possible the investigation’s conclusions will never be released if there are conflicting confidentiality laws.

Thomas’ only statements about the situation come in the form of a letter to parents Oct. 25 in which she confirmed the district and state are investigating allegations of staff misconduct.

“The Orange Public Schools wishes to make it clear, however, that the well-being and safety of all of our students is a top priority of the district. We have no tolerance for behavior that places children at risk. We take these matters seriously and have high expectations of all employees,” Thomas said in part.

Thomas also said the faculty and staff receives “regular in-service training related to topics such as reporting obligations, harassment, sexual harassment and misconduct, bullying, boundary setting, confidentiality, crisis intervention, de-escalation, and how and where to report any inappropriate, unacceptable or illegal behavior.”

Reach David McLellan at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.