Saturday May 11, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A supervisory union investigation into potential misconduct by paraeducators at Bennington Elementary School has been completed, as officials now move to weigh their findings.

Special meeting scheduled

A special meeting scheduled for Monday for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Board of Directors calls for an executive session for personnel matters "regarding superintendent’s recommendation for termination of employment contract."

The update to the lengthy investigation that began March 1 comes as parents of children with special needs have expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of both the inquiry and changes to special education programming. (See related story, page 1A.)

"The investigations are complete, we are now in the consideration of the findings and action that needs to be taken," SVSU Superintendent Catherine McClure said Thursday. "As soon as things are concluded, I will make a public statement as best I’m able."

The inquiry began after a hidden audio recorder was attached to the backpack of a then-8-year-old boy with autism who was struggling in school. Made available to the Banner, the nine-hour recording from Feb. 13 recorded two paraprofessionals leaving the child alone in a room throughout the day and berating from him behind a closed door.

At various points in the recording, adult voices are heard saying the child can go days without food and water, describing him as a "dumbass kid with autism," and ordering him to clean urine off the floor.

The report spurred a separate, concurrent investigation by state police, the status of which was not available this week.

Nathan back in school

Jean Pinsonneault, the aunt of the boy -- Nathan Reilly, now 9 -- said last week that her nephew was back in school and doing better at Monument Elementary. "We’re moving forward with Nathan," she said.

"He’s doing well," she continued, with an Individualized Education Program that calls for an hour of school each day leading up to next fall when he may transition back to a full day. Pleased with her nephew’s progress, Pinsonneault nonetheless cited a lack of communication regarding the investigation and current staff at school. "I asked are these aides (still in school)?"

"I wish I had more information for myself," Pinsonneault said March 3. "They are so tight-lipped."

At the start of the investigation, at least three individuals including paraprofessionals Laurie Connell and substitute Clayton Buck, as well as Kathleen Buck, the supervisory union’s director of special education services and Clayton Buck’s mother, were either placed on leave or not called to substitute.

The director’s duties were divided between current administrators at the start of Buck’s leave.

Among recently posted job openings at the SVSU are a long-term substitute special education teacher at Bennington Elementary for the remainder of the current year and three anticipated paraprofessional vacancies and an assistant superintendent of special education for next year -- the latter a newly created position.

In a prepared statement, McClure wrote that the supervisory union would continue to "take strong action in finding answers to our questions, examining programs to make sure they are effective in meeting every child’s needs, and offering staff members the guidance of experienced professionals to consult and train everyone involved in providing specialized educational needs, including ongoing building of services, professional development opportunities and programs for students" throughout the supervisory union and BSD.

McClure said Thursday that personnel matters were complex involving state and federal law and local collective bargaining agreements. "It’s a very lengthy and methodological process, but it needs to be."

"It’s not purposeful unresponsiveness -- I just can’t respond," she said.

Grounds and procedures for suspension and dismissal are covered under Vermont Education Statute Chapter 57.

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