August 23, 2019

Region 4 School Board to Investigate Alleged Gag Order at Valley Regional High School

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education voted Wednesday to hire an independent party to investigate reports that a gag order was imposed on students and staff at Valley Regional High School in the wake of last month’s departure of the former high school principal.

The board decided at a special meeting to retain an outside attorney to investigate the alleged gag order and report back to the board. The five members present at the meeting, including board treasurer Richard Strauss of Chester, who is Rice’s father-in-law, voted unanimously to begin the investigation as soon as possible.

Reports that students were ordered not to discuss the situation involving the principal under threat of sanctions by school officials surfaced before and after Rice’s Oct. 12 resignation from the principal job he held for less than two months. There were reports that Rice, a Chester resident, had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy, who has declined to discuss the circumstances of Rice’s departure. There have been claims by students and some parents that students, including members of school athletic teams, had been ordered not to attend a Sept. 23 rally supporting Rice, and not to discuss the situation on school grounds. Kristina Martineau, who had been assistant principal at the high school for about three years, has been named as acting principal for the remainder of the current academic year.

The alleged gag order had been included in a complaint to the Connecticut Department of Education against Levy and the Region 4 board that was filed by Essex resident Susan Magaziner. State Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan dismissed the complaint last week, but Magaziner has also submitted the complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s regional office in Boston, Mass.

Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said an independent investigation of the alleged gag order was not required for the dismissal of the state complaint, though she acknowledged the school district’s lawyer, Ann Littlefield, had recommended the board investigate the allegations.

Levy who has denied the claims of a gag order on students or staff, said she wants the investigation. “If there was a gag order I want the truth to come out and quite honestly I deserve the truth to come out,” she said, adding “I want my name cleared.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser, who had been principal at the high school before Rice was hired, said the state Department of Education would not conduct the investigation, though it had suggested the names of individuals qualified to conduct such an investigation. Hiring a lawyer for the investigation would cost the school district about $175 per hour.

District officials are expected to announce the person retained to conduct the investigation next week. The private attorney would interview students and staff at the high school. The individual would be asked to complete the investigation and present a report to the school board as soon as possible, though there is no deadline for completion of the investigation.

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.

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