April 08, 2020

Investigator fails to back ex-teacher> Maine Human Rights Commission yet to rule in complaint against SAD 77

EAST MACHIAS — An investigator for the Maine Human Rights Commission has recommended the commission dismiss a complaint by a former Elm Street School teacher who charged she lost her job because she participated in a child-abuse investigation involving the school’s former principal.

The Maine Human Rights Commission will make a final decision on Janet Berry v. MSAD 77 on Jan. 26. Susan Clark investigated Berry’s case for the commission and explained her findings in a Dec. 3 report.

“There are no reasonable grounds to believe that unlawful discrimination in employment has occurred against Janet Berry because she engaged in activities protected under Title 26, The Whistleblower’s Protection Act,” Clark wrote.

Berry lodged her discrimination complaint in June 1996 after Betty Jordan, the fomer superintendent of SAD 77, failed to recommend Berry for contract renewal. At the time, Berry had just finished her second probationary year as a seventh-grade teacher at the school. Because Berry was a probationary teacher, Jordan would have had to recommend that her contract be renewed.

Berry alleged that Jordan failed to recommend a new contract because Berry had participated in the Washington County Sheriff Department’s investigation of former Elm Street School Principal John Gardner. The sheriff’s department was investigating a student’s complaint that the principal had hit him in the arm. The charge against Gardner was dismissed after the Washington County grand jury failed to return an indictment.

According to Berry’s complaint, she had complained about Gardner before the boy made his complaint against the principal. Berry said she told Jordan that Gardner’s management style and his temper “generally kept the atmosphere in a stir.” When Berry was interviewd by the sheriff’s department, she said she did not see Gardner hit the boy but did see a red mark on the boy’s arm.

SAD 77 maintained Jordan’s decision not to recommend a contract for Berry was based on teaching evaluations, according to the investigator’s report.

Both Gardner and Jordan had evaluated Berry’s teaching performance over a period of years, according to the investigator’s report. Although both gave her good marks as a math teacher, both identified concerns with Berry’s ability to manage her classroom.

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