August 25, 2019

State Department of Education Dismisses Region 4 Complaint

REGION 4— The Connecticut Department of Education has dismissed a complaint filed by an Essex resident against the Region 4 Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy over alleged actions taken during and after the departure last month of former Valley Regional High School Principal Eric Rice.

The complaint was filed earlier this month by resident Susan Magaziner, alleging an “abuse of power” by Levy leading up to Rice’s Oct. 12 resignation, and a “”violation of civil rights” through a “gag order” that prevented students from discussing the circumstances of Rice’s departure. Magaziner, who does not have children at the high school, said she became concerned about the situation at the high school after hearing that students had been barred from discussing Rice’s departure, and threatened with sanctions if they discussed the matter.

Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan, in a response dated Nov. 8, dismissed the complaint.  McQuillan advised that he had dismissed the complaint because Magaziner had not first “attempted to resolve the matter” with Region 4 officials, and had not provided “any facts, materials, or documents to support” the allegations.

McQuillan also questioned whether the Connecticut State Board of Education held jurisdiction because Region 4 employees are “employees of the district, not the Connecticut State Board of education.” McQuillan also advised that alleged violations of Constitutional rights need to be addressed in federal court.

But despite the dismissal of the complaint, the Region 4 Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the district central office to discuss the possible appointment of “an independent party to investigate an alleged gag order and violation of First Amendment rights at Valley Regional High School.”

Rice, a Chester resident hired as principal over the summer, resigned from the job on Oct 12, less than three weeks after reports that he had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum by Levy for unspecified reasons. The reports of a gag order on students at the high school surfaced after a Sept. 23 protest rally by residents and students concerned about the situation.

Levy reported at a Nov. 4 meeting that Rice had received a severance payment of $62,150, along with extended health insurance coverage costing about $15,000. The school board has named Kristina Martineau, who had been assistant principal at the high school for about three years, as acting principal through the end of the current school year in June.

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.