Wednesday May 15, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- An investigation by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union has resulted in the firing of one special education teacher, with further action possibly warranted as recommended by administrators.

SVSU Superintendent Catherine McClure would not confirm additional future action but said Tuesday the supervisory union was moving forward with care.

"These are complex matters and we are moving forward to consider specific contracts," McClure said.

Board Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller said the termination did not conclude the inquiry, which was prompted by an audio recording in February that evidenced staff misconduct at Bennington Elementary School. Oller said she and members of the school board were as "shocked, disappointed, and upset as parents and community members" when the allegations first surfaced.

"There were a number of different aspects to the supervisory union’s investigation," Oller said Tuesday. "The board took action on the superintendent’s recommendation," and now the employee is afforded due process, she continued.

Monday’s special meeting of the SVSU Board of Directors lasted a little over two hours, all but five minutes of it taking place in private, executive session according to draft minutes available Tuesday.

Two actions -- to accept the confidential investigative report and to terminate the employment contract of Kathy Houran, a certified special education teacher -- were approved.

Houran is the fourth staff member publicly linked to the probe after three others were previously confirmed by administrators to have either been placed on leave or, in the case of one substitute paraprofessional, not called in to substitute during the course of the inquiry. Due process begins at the start of any allegation and being placed on administrative leave is not an admission of wrongdoing.

Monday’s meeting began with supervisory union board members entering a private session with McClure and Attorney Dina Atwood, of the Burlington law firm Stitzel, Page, & Fletcher, as a representative of administration. A half-hour later, McClure and Atwood were excused for board deliberations that lasted 25 minutes.

Board member Francis Kinney made the first motion that the board "accept, in its entirety, the confidential investigative report prepared by attorney Atwood dated April 11, 2013, regarding the conduct of a certified special education teacher, who was not specifically assigned to work with the student in question on Feb. 13, 2013, at the Bennington Elementary School."

The motion was seconded by Leon Johnson and passed unanimously.

The second motion to terminate the employment of Houran upon the superintendent’s recommendation, effective the following day, Tuesday, May 14, was made by Raymond Mullineaux and seconded by Cynthia Brownell. Oller abstained as chair of the board, while Larry Johnson opposed the motion according to the minutes dated May 14.

A second half-hour private session followed "for further personnel employment issues" with McClure and Atwood with no action afterward.

Attempts to reach Houran were unsuccessful Tuesday.

In a follow-up email Oller assured that the investigation was thorough and being taken seriously.

"This has been a difficult time for many of us and we don’t want to forget the lessons learned but we do want to return our focus on making sure all students in the supervisory union get the best education possible," she said.

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