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Robison: Superintendent Has Hired Outside Counsel

SPS Committee Chair Rich Robison confirms a lawyer has been put on retainer, but can't say for what.

After the Sudbury Public Schools Committee ended executive session on Wednesday night, numerous parents stayed at the and continued to demand answers over the lack of communication regarding

According to parent Christine Hogan, when executive session ended after almost two hours, another parent, Jane Stevenson, asked the Committee whether private counsel had been hired.

"Robison answered, 'Yes,'" Hogan told Sudbury Patch. "When Jane asked for the counsel's name, he turned to Dr. (Anne) Wilson, who said he cannot answer because it is not public record."

Parents Bobby Beagan and Cindy Brindisi were also at the meeting and confirmed to Sudbury Patch the conversations between the Committee and other parents.

Robison told Sudbury Patch the hiring of counsel is a routine matter.

"If we have questions about any legal issue regarding different activities we engage in, we ask counsel," he said. "When we say we can’t talk about staff, that’s from counsel for a variety of reasons. There are federal and state laws. The reality of this situation at is there are very specific laws we need to observe until it’s cleared up."

Robison said he could not name the counsel who was hired or why.

"We can’t discuss student records or personnel records according to law to protect student and parent privacy and those employed," he said. "People perceive it as cover up, or hiding behind a lawyer, but it's not that simple."

The Committee was also asked who would be paying for counsel and any settlement. Robison said that would come school funds.

"The school department pays the bill," he said.

SPS business manager Mary Will said there isn't a line item in the budget for litigation and there are no funds in reserve for such an issue.

"There is a standard budget line item for attorney fees," she said.

If SPS were to go to court for any reason and lose a case, Will said they would have to look within the budget to find the money to pay for any settlement.

"But that hasn't happened since I've been here," Will said, who added she's about to enter her 10th year at SPS.

Wilson was not available for comment on Thursday as she was attending an activity with a fourth-grade class for the remainder of the week.

Donahue came under fire after the school's music teacher, Michael Gorgone, filed a complaint about how she broke up a fight between two students.

About two dozen parents and students gathered outside the SPS offices to support Donahue prior to a hearing last month. Some left crying after hearing the news of her dismissal.

Donahue and her lawyers were told not to comment on the hearings.

Her husband, Jim, said: "Let's just say she didn't win."

siobhan hullinger June 08, 2012 at 10:29 AM
WOW - we will be on the hook for counsel but we aren't ALLOWED to know who it is???? What law is Superintendent Wilson referring to here? This is EXACTLY what the Boston Globe was referring to with their lawsuit!!! I never thought this would get worse but this article is it!! I am OUTRAGED that we cannot even get a simple name of an attorney that WE will be on the hook for... This is SO out of control!!!!! I am going to look into the legality of her statements myself. This is going to turn into a class action - I can see it - why can't this "new hire" and the commiittee see what they are doing?? This is the WRONG path for the committee and superintendent. I have NEVER heard of such a concerted push back to parents in my 22 years of living in Sudbury.
RT Paine June 08, 2012 at 11:14 AM
If the Subury Public School system has contracted with legal counsel, the identity of the law firm must be disclosed. If the superintendent has hired seperate counsel to represent her in her individual capacity with her own money, she doesn't need to disclose who it is. From the article's description of Mr. Robeson's response, it sounds like SPS has hired the lawyer, as such, we are entitled to know who they hired, what the billing rate is, and what the scope of the engagement is.
WhereDoISignARecallPetition? June 08, 2012 at 12:24 PM
How about getting rid of the school committee, superintendent, and principal and re-instating the teacher? This whole situation is *ridiculous*. And, to think that we moved here last year because of the school system's reputation. Between this and the shenanigans with the Selectmen and Town Manager, it's more than a little absurd.
Edward Stark June 08, 2012 at 12:44 PM
What's the chance that the attorney's last name is either: Beeler, Iuliano or Collins?
2Labs June 08, 2012 at 12:48 PM
I second this: "we are entitled to know who they hired, what the billing rate is, and what the scope of the engagement is."
UserName June 08, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Especially considering that this litigation likely involves the Mrs. J matter. Defending a lawsuit like that could take years and easily cost over $100,000. How many teachers could we pay with that money???
joanne June 08, 2012 at 01:00 PM
I can hear my property value dropping like a stone-
Music Teacher June 08, 2012 at 02:35 PM
When Mrs. J came out of the meeting with Wilson two weeks ago, she stated on camera that "these lawyers here tell me I can't say anything." It's still up on Patch. That's why everyone is under the impression that she is under a gag order or else risks her pension.
Music Teacher June 08, 2012 at 02:36 PM
I really think that, if there is no gag order and Mrs. J risks nothing by doing so, it may be time for her to come out and hold a press conference and tell everything she knows, including what's going on romantically inside Noyes after hours.
Seeking Transparency June 08, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Let me count the ways that I will be paying for this: Involuntarily: 1. My taxes are paying for outside counsel hired by the Superintendant 2. My taxes will be paying for any costs associated with litigation including any settlement or judgement 3. My property values will take a hit due to the absolute bashing the reputation of SPS (NOT the teachers) is taking Voluntarily 1. Any money that I will gladly donate to a defense fund for Mrs Donahue to enable her to fight this to the bitter end
Concerned June 08, 2012 at 03:10 PM
From what I understand, a gag order was part of the agreement that Mrs. J was asked to sign at that initial meeting. Since word on the street is that she did not sign it, I'd imagine she won't be under that gag order for long - maybe this is why Robison said there is no gag order. But if she's planning litigation, it might not be the best idea to talk to the press about it just yet.
Noyes Family June 08, 2012 at 05:28 PM
To the people asking Annette Doyle to leave: Have you really thought about this? We have a fantastic school with amazing teachers. My children are getting a superb education at Noyes. We moved here for the schools and are thrilled with our decision. Loring needed to find a new principal. They ended up with a one year, interim, retired principal. Is that really what we want for Noyes? I would much rather have a principal who is connected to our school and plans to stay. If Annette Doyle leaves, Noyes will be in a much worse situation. Besides, if you are worried about the costs involved with one teacher leaving, do you really want to pay the legal fees for firing a principal and superintendent? I definitely do not! The schools in Sudbury are so much better than in many towns in MA. I personally am very grateful for the amazing education that my kids are getting.
joanne June 08, 2012 at 06:00 PM
@ Noyes Family- Yes I have thought long and hard about this. Kirsten Moffat would make a wonderful principle! She knows and cares for all the children in that school. She does not put herself before the kids! She is not a bully! She treats the staff & parents & children with kindness and respect. Annette could learn alot from her
ScaredSudbury June 08, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Noyes Family, I too am a "Noyes Family" and I have been very happy with my children's education and experience at Noyes. However, right now I am worried, very worried. What if we do actually find out after all of this that an amazing teacher had been let go without just cause and this act ended up negatively impacting many kid's education and emotional well-being? Along with that it will end up costing the taxpayers a lot of money? What would you suggest at that point? Would you still have the confidence in our administration? If people hadn't questioned the process and the decision to begin with we wouldn't know that the 51A had been tossed and that there was a potential "back story" as to why Mrs. J. was really being let go.
Noyes Family June 08, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Cynthia- I am not on the school committee or a part of the Noyes Administration. Take a look at the comments in all of the J. Donahue stories. Many, if not most, of them do not use real names. Considering how many people have posted hostile comments, I have no interest in my children or myself being a target for having a differing opinion. I think that the school will be much worse off if Annette Doyle leaves. She is a wonderful, dynamic leader and would not be easily replaced.
Cynthia Denessen June 08, 2012 at 06:45 PM
If Sudbury keeps the current Noyes principal, taxpayers risk lawsuits, the devaluation of their homes and the possible loss of more excellent teachers at Noyes.
Angry Noyes Parent June 08, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Perhaps you should have attended the school committee meeting. What came to light are multiple lies told by Ms. Doyle to the parents of Mrs. J's class. We also heard about her asking for a round of applause from the other teachers for the teacher who reported the child abuse that was ultimately dismissed immediately by the state because it was obviously bogus (teachers who, by the way, are scared senseless for their jobs - to the point of not intervening and calling the police in an incident since that absolutely should have been dealt without taking such a drastic step!). Lastly, we heard about children from Mrs. J's class being interrogated by the administration without their parents' consent or knowledge. I, too, have supported Ms. Doyle in the past... but after learning this and personally experiencing the blatant disrespect toward the Sudbury parents from Ms. Wilson and the school committee, they all have to go.
Disgusted in Sudbury June 09, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Do you really think Loring can find anything but an interim principal now? Who would want to risk their own reputation to join this circus of a school system? If Dr. Wilson and Ms. Doyle resigned, I don't think we'd have to pay legal fees. And how can you say that Annette Doyle is connected to the school? Did you read her recent letter blaming parents for their gossip? Pa-lease. She should be begging for forgiveness not pointing yet another finger for something that is her own fault. Like so many others in this town, it is time to step down Wilson and Doyle.
Music Teacher June 09, 2012 at 01:13 PM
It's now pretty clear what happened. The whole music teacher/51A report was just a red herring that the superintendent and school committee used as a diversion, letting us continue to argue that teachers need to be able to intervene physically to separate fighting boys. Instead, that was just the excuse needed to launch an investigation of Mrs. J. They waited until she was out of school on a pre-scheduled doctor's appointment, then called her students into the principal's office one by one to elicit the evidence they wanted. That what, she is a yeller? That she has used physical restraint to separate battling boys in the past and not followed up with a written report to the principal? That she did not rotate the kids through different seating arrangements often enough? Whatever it was, it was enough to document some violation of official school policy, and so Mrs. J was fired.
Music Teacher June 09, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Why couldn't the school committee have just stated the facts generally as laid out above, without getting into the merits, so that the town would not have wasted two weeks arguing about whether teachers should break up fights? There was an incident in April, which led to an investigation, which uncovered evidence leading to Mrs. J's termination. No discussion of the merits, no breaches of confidentiality. Would that have been so difficult to say?
Music Teacher June 09, 2012 at 01:19 PM
There is a problem with the principal and superintendent making autonomous, unreviewed (and apparently unreviewable, if the alleged confidentiality restrictions are true) decisions that could cause the town to incur liability. Neither the superintendent nor the principal live in town, so they have no skin in the game. And the people who will end up paying any judgment or settlement, and who are already paying Deutsch Williams for Wilson's defense preparation, are not allowed to know the basis for the decision that led to the lawsuit. How can this disconnect be?
pcguy June 09, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Keep shedding light on this situation. What an arrogant administration you have there. Janice was targeted and they thought they would force het out quietly.
Andrew MacEntee June 09, 2012 at 03:43 PM
TO: Sudbury School Committee RE: Massachusetts Public Records Request This is a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law The Sudbury School Committee Chairman is on record as saying that the committee has hired outside counsel as per the Patch article. Given that the ability to inspect the records of government is fundamental to our democracy, there is a presumption that all governmental records are public records. Disclosure of governmental records is favored by the presumption that the record sought is public. In short, Dr Wilson's apparent classification of requested materials as "personnel information" is incorrect and and would conclusively be determined so, if required, on appeal to the Supervisor of Records, Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth and/or in litigation. Therefore, please supply any records covering Ms Stevenson's question above as relates to counsel hired, billing rate, and scope of the engagement.
SueChap June 10, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Mr. Mac, perhaps amend to request also have them provide under which conditions the superintendent and principal can be terminated. Where is Support Sudbury and their petition people? Oh, I forget, we elected her. Ms. Gutch could provide an opinion, but she didn't pay attention during these meetings. We need a petition. We need answers. We need these two (Wilson and Doyle) outed under the same disrespectful conditions they terminated Ms. J. I'll trade you two school administrators for the return of Ms. J. No questions asked.
Cynthia Denessen June 10, 2012 at 11:34 PM
As a former Noyes teacher who worked for the current administration, I totally agree with you, SueChap. As I stated at a SSC Meeting, Mrs.J is not the only teacher to be treated unfairly at Noyes, nor will she be the last if the town doesn't do something about it.
David Gursky June 11, 2012 at 01:46 PM
[Caveat emptor. I do not live in Sudbury. I did however live there from about 1960 to 1983 and I am a product of the Sudbury Public Schools and the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. Some would say that this explains a lot...] We had something of a similar situation here in the Washington DC area. The best summary I can give is that a resident of Loudon County took a picture of the County Board of Equalization (I have NO idea WTH the BoE does) at a meeting. This apparently disturbed one of the members of the BoE, who eventually had the resident removed. This escalated into a legal battle between the Board of Supervisors and the BoE, with the County residents picking up the legal fees of both sides, and generally making the County look like a laughing stock. The first of several articles on the subject can be found in the Washington Post online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-state-of-nova/post/loudoun-foia-battle-expands-into-costly-power-struggle/2012/01/25/gIQAaEctSQ_blog.html
Rob June 11, 2012 at 05:32 PM
macentee get ready for a letter from their atty telling you about the fees for making copies. However id argue that this in the public's interest and should be waived. Im sure they wont want to see it that way
Parent June 15, 2012 at 05:33 AM
I am a parent of a child in Mrs. J’s class and my experience and comments are not based on rumor or gossip. I have direct experience with this issue. ScaredSudbury: You are right on – “an amazing teacher had been let go without just cause and this act ended up negatively impacting many kid's education and emotional well-being.” We were having an absolutely amazing 1st grade experience thanks to Mrs. J. As for other comments about taking things out of the room…She was given a date and time to remove all personal belongings from the classroom. She did as instructed and frankly, this has nothing to do with the issues that we’ve experienced. I know firsthand that there was a tragic failure by the administration on how they handled our classroom and that almost 20% of our 1st grade experience was affected because of this failure. Bad people make mistakes and good people make mistakes. We are all human. What matters is that mistakes were made and students suffered. There was a lack of procedure in place to handle the immediate removal of a teacher (BTW, based on the communication between parents, we haven’t come across one parent or student who had issue with any incidents). It is an injustice to our children to not have accountability for these mistakes. It is also crucial to have a solid policy created so this can never happen again. Too many people have suffered from this, but especially in an academic environment it should never be children that pay the price.

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