July 1, 2022

Parents and Students Protest Move to Dismiss Valley Regional High School Principal

Eileen Steinfeldt talks to Channel 3 News

REGION 4— About 50 parents, students, and residents gathered outside the school district’s administrative offices in Deep River Thursday to protest a move by Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy to dismiss the newly hired principal at Valley Regional High School.

The rally was organized on short notice by Chester resident Eileen Steinfeldt after she learned earlier this week that Levy had reportedly given Principal Eric Rice until Friday to resign or face dismissal. Rice, a Chester resident, was hired as principal over the summer. Steinfeldt said she does not have children attending the high school, but knows Rice, a father of three, and his family.

Levy, who has served as superintendent since June 2009 and previously served as Region 4 assistant superintendent for two years, Thursday declined to comment on the reasons she is seeking to remove Rice only three weeks after the opening of the new school year on Sept. 1. “I can’t talk about personnel issues,” Levy said, adding only that she believes there have been “a lot of inaccuracies and rumors.”

About 50 parents, students, and residents gathered outside the school district's administrative offices in Deep River Thursday

Students at the rally said they had a positive impression of Rice from the last three weeks, and also commented on what they have heard were the reasons for Levy’s action.

Zack Sanders, a senior from Chester, said he was told Levy objected to Rice “high-fiving” a special education student and believed that he had behaved inappropriately at a recent open house for parents. Sanders said he was present at the open house and witnessed nothing inappropriate about’s Rice’s behavior that evening.

There have also been reports Levy objected to Rice bringing a Blackberry computer with a recording device to a meeting of administrators. “If those are the reasons they don’t warrant having his job taken away,” Sanders said.

Sanders said Rice had been a welcoming presence at the school over the past three weeks, greeting students on arrival and reaching out to talk to them individually. “We thought he was doing a great job,” he said.

The gathering was monitored by Deep River police constable Raymond Sypher

Steven Klinck, another senior from Chester, said students and teachers are wondering what Rice had done to warrant an abrupt dismissal. “We don’t get it” he said.

Susan Wyeth, an Ivoryton resident whose daughter is a student at the high school, said she is troubled by the superintendent’s move. “It seems precipitous and it’s an unnecessary upheaval,” Wyeth said. “I don’t think Eric Rice knows what is happening and I wonder what this means for hiring good people in the future.”

Students said Rice was absent Tuesday, but was seen at the school Thursday. There are reports Rice was advised of Levy’s concerns at a meeting on Sept. 16, and was given the reported leave or face dismissal ultimatum the next day.

The rally lasted about 40 minutes as students and parents talked to various media reporters about the situation. The gathering was monitored by Deep River police constable Raymond Sypher.

Region 4 board members, including Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River and vice-chair Mary Beth Harrigan of Essex, could not be reached Thursday for comment. The nine-member elected board held its last regular meeting on Sept. 2, with Rice and other administrators present at the meeting.

Channel 3 News Present at Protest Meeting

Duane Gates, a board member from Deep River who drove past the gathering, declined comment. But Gates said he does not know the details of the situation involving Rice, and is not certain when the board would meet to discuss the situation and the future of the principal position at the high school.

Rice, who worked previously as principal of a science and technology magnet school in the Hartford school system, is the son-in-law of Richard and Leslie Strauss of Chester. Richard Strauss is a member and current treasurer of the Region 4 board. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.