Middletown superintendent of schools granted leave of absence amid claims of harassment, intimidation in district

Middlesex

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — Middletown Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Conner has been granted a leave of absence after a group of teachers in the town voiced concerns of harassment and intimidation in the school district.

The decision was made in a special Board of Education meeting Monday night.

The board accepted Conner’s request for a leave of absence effective immediately. They appointed current Chief Academic Officer Alberto Vazquez Matos as Acting Superintendent of Schools during Conner’s absence.

“We are glad to see the Board of Education taking this step towards a full and impartial investigation, which we hope will begin promptly, and support Dr. Conner’s decision to take a leave of absence as Superintendent while the investigation proceeds,” wrote Middletown Mayor Benjamin Florsheim, Councilman Eugene Nocera, and Councilman Philip Pessina in a joint statement on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the superintendent sent the following statement to News 8:

“Based on advice from his doctors, Dr. Michael Conner, superintendent of Middletown Public Schools, has taken FMLA and will return upon clearance from his doctors.”

Director of Communications for Middletown Public Schools Jessie Lavorgna said Matos will be sending a letter to the school community Tuesday regarding this transition.

“I think that we’re taking steps…to ensure that our classrooms and school buildings are places where children feel safe and heard and so does staff,” Lavorgna said.

During the meeting, the board also designated Chairwoman Deborah Cain as the board’s liaison for addressing the complaints made by personnel and any other complaints related to the superintendent.

Ann Gregg, president of UPSEU local 6457, told city leaders at the Common Council meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14, “Together we represent over one thousand dedicated public servants.”

She was among several representatives from the school unions in Middletown who voiced their concerns last week.

“Numerous past and present members have come to us with serious concerns about repeated harassment, intimidation, and retaliation by members of central office senior management,” said Gregg.

“I just want to acknowledge the seriousness of what was just stated,” Mayor Florsheim responded.

It was shortly after those concerns were aired that Dr. Conner requested a leave of absence.

News 8 asked Lavorgna if there was a connection between the concerns raised and the superintendent’s leave of absence. She responded, “I can’t say. I am not knowledgeable of that information.”

Lavorgna added, “There are 15 anonymous complaints.”

The Middletown Unions Coalition released a statement saying in part, “We are disappointed that the Board of Education (BOE) failed to see the need to place additional senior management team staff on leave during their investigation…the problem is bigger than any single official.”

“This is a difficult time for Middletown Public Schools and for the whole Middletown community,” wrote Mayor Florsheim. “An investigation that reveals all the facts and brings forth the truth will allow us to continue moving our district forward, ensuring that every student receives a great education, and every employee feels safe and supported at work.”

At this time Lavorgna was unable to provide specific details on the investigation and whether or not it would be conducted by investigators outside the school department.

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