REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education has hired a Madison lawyer to investigate reports of a gag order allegedly imposed on students and staff at Valley Regional High School in the wake of the departure of the school principal last month.
Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said Stacey Lafferty, a lawyer with a solo practice in Madison, has been hired to conduct the investigation that was authorized by the board at a Nov. 18 special meeting. Levy said Lafferty had served previously as a hearing officer for two student expulsion hearings in the district.
Levy said Lafferty has begun the investigation, and was at the high school Monday. Lafferty is expected to interview students, staff, and Levy herself, about claims by some students and parents that a gag order was imposed on students and staff before and after the Oct. 12 resignation of Eric Rice, the Chester resident who worked briefly as principal at the high school. There have been claims that students were ordered, under threat of sanctions, not to discuss the circumstances of Rice’s departure on school grounds.
Levy has declined to comment on the circumstances of Rice’s departure after less than two months on the job, despite reports that she had given Rice a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum for unspecified reasons in mid-September. The alleged gag order was cited in a complaint filed with the state Department of Education earlier this month by Essex resident Susan Magaziner. The complaint was dismissed by state Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan, but district lawyers also recommended the board sponsor a full investigation in to the alleged gag order.
Levy said Rafferty’s investigation would conclude with a written report to the board of education that will also be available to the public. Levy said she is hopeful the investigation would be completed before the school’s Christmas holiday break late next month.
Levy, who assumed the district’s top job in July 2009 after nearly three years as assistant superintendent, Monday also dismissed rumors that she is interviewing for other school administration jobs in preparation for leaving Region 4. Levy said she enjoys working for the Chester-Deep River-Essex school district, and has not interviewed for other positions despite the recent controversy over the principal’s departure and the alleged gag order. “I have not even thought about looking elsewhere,” she said.
Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years. He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade. Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.