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Sudbury Public Schools Committee Faces Ire Over Donahue Dismissal

Dozens of parents packed into Wednesday night's meeting of the SPS Committee to voice disapproval over a lack of communication regarding a popular teacher losing her job.

Parent after parent addressed the Sudbury Public Schools Committee at its Wednesday night meeting at the , expressing their disapproval over a lack of communication from regarding an incident involving a well-known teacher.

Parents complained the school failed to communicate properly with them as to why the teacher, Janice Donahue, had not been present in the Room 15 first-grade classroom since early May. They said they were left to assume that she was simply on sick leave, until social media starting spreading rumors that she had been dismissed during an abuse allegation.

Donahue, 67, lost the position she held for more than 20 years on May 23 following a three-hour meeting with Superintendent Dr. Anne Wilson, over an incident in which another teacher complained about the manner in which Donahue broke up a fight between two young boys who wanted the same seat in a music class. Her supporters have said that Donahue has an excellent reputation and that any allegation that she assaulted a student is preposterous.

"We are very interested in hearing your opinions," Committee Chair Richard Robison said, as he opened the public comment period during the meeting. "However, we are not in a position to make comments about specific situations."

He asked the sizable crowd to "stick with issues and not resort to personal attacks."

It's the first public controversy for Robison since he was named as Committee Chair earlier this month. He repeatedly declined questions about what parents perceived as a breakdown in communication about the Donahue situation.

"I appreciate the frustration," Robison said. "But we are simply not allowed, in any way, shape or form, to comment on personnel issues."

"Your repeated refusal to comment smells like an act of cowardice, and that should be put on the record," Paul Hogan, the parent of two children in Room 15, said. "It's very disturbing."

Hogan and others also complained about having to tell their children why their teacher was missing when they weren't even sure themselves. "If there are 22 children, then there are 22 different stories being told," Hogan said.

Parents mentioned that the teacher is "the third most important person" in a child's life and the unexpected disruption was upsetting.

"Our children are left to get their information on the playground. They want to know where their teacher is. We have received no support from the administration," Molly Gilmartin told the Committee. "It's appalling."

"I don't want to lie to my children, and tell them Mrs. J. just retired. I've had people who moved away to New York call and ask what is going on in Sudbury.  I don't like to lie. I think what is going with Mrs. J. is just really stinky," Cindy Simon told the Committee.

"It goes against all the core values of the school. All we were told is that the children are being put first, which is just baloney," Hogan said.

"You have to realize we voted you to represent us, and the town now, a good portion of it, is quite upset. I don't feel like the community is being heard right now. You're not here to represent the superintendent," Bob Beagan told the Committee, to applause from the crowd.

Wilson, a key figure in the controversy, was present at the meeting but said very little. "This is public comment time, and it's time for the public to comment, so I'm respecting the agenda," Wilson said as she declined a question from a parent. Her response was met with boos and audible disapproval from the crowd.

Noyes Principal Annette Doyle, who was not at the meeting, has also not been open about the situation. "I have nothing to say, good luck," she said right before abruptly ending a call from Sudbury Patch editor Robert Fucci seeking information about the case last week.

Parents at the meeting also complained that the first-grade children are coming home with the same book over and over again, and seem to be floundering with their assignments following the abrupt change in teachers at the end of the school year.

"You don't respect us. We're leaving," one parent commented as the public forum ended and the Committee returned to routine business.

Donahue did not attend Wednesday night's meeting and previously declined comment to the media on the advice of her attorneys. Her husband previously denied that she had done anything wrong and said that school officials didn't care for her outspoken nature and were looking for any excuse to remove her from the school.

Connie Marotta May 31, 2012 at 04:57 PM
correction: superintendant, Anne Wilson, was not at the meeing - she sent a lawyer and a letter. I, too, wondered why she was not at the meeting along with any school committe members.
RT Paine May 31, 2012 at 05:39 PM
The conduct of the School Committee and the Superintendent in this situation is frankly, appalling. Instead of being dismissive of the parents and taxpayers, SPSC owes and explanation of what occurred, why it has been handled as poorly as it has, what was the extent of the "investigation" that was conducted (which investigation did not include any of the parents), and what SPSC is going to do to restore confidence in thier representation on behlaf of the tax payers to oversee the administration of our K-8 schools.
SkimThreePercent May 31, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Clearly the new Superintendent is not up to the task at hand. Folks have already fogotten the Curtis scoreboard fiasco. Ditto, the food poisoning. Keep the heat on. Sudbury deserves much better than this. Also, please note Patch is all there is. Town Crier sees nothing, hears nothing. Don't expect any help from the Town. It's quite frightening!
siobhan hullinger May 31, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Precendent setting case for no gag orders: http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/blog/2012/05/17/one-win-one-setback-for-the-publics-right-to-know-in-massachusetts/#axzz1wOZzjVNo
Edward Stark May 31, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Prediction: Ann Wilson will be a one contract Superintendent and Lisa Gutch will NOT win re-election next year.
Very concerned Noyes parent May 31, 2012 at 10:12 PM
This is stated in the context of completely support of Mrs J and I am appalled by her firing AND lack of communication with the Noyes community, BUT I do feel a little sympathy for the school committee who is left to sort through the mess. I do EXPECT them to sort through the mess, but understand why they couldn't take a forceful stand last night. They still have to work with Dr. Wilson and Ms. Doyle for now, and therefore can't crucify them en masse, in a group meeting like that. They need a moment to collect their thoughts and THEN react. And react they SHOULD! But why single out individual committee members at this point?
Noyes Mom June 01, 2012 at 02:51 AM
I can not believe there was not even communication to the parents who have children in Mrs J's class. There is no excuse for the way this has been handled! It is unexceptable. This is NOT in the best interest of the children. The school committee needs to step up and handle this situation properly. The Noyes community is very upset.
JW June 01, 2012 at 03:12 AM
I am trouble by the dismissal of Ms J Donahue but I'm more troubled by the manner of the process itself. Any school administration who needs a gag order as part of the deal does not speak well of the administrator as role model for any school system. I would like to know the just cause of the dismissal. BTW, one of SPS's core values "Actively promote personal responsibility and integrity." I guess the integrity part only applies to the people attending the school and not the people running it.
Liz June 01, 2012 at 10:58 AM
Does anyone know whether there has been any effort since the meeting to meet with the parents of Mrs. J's class? I have a long list of other concerns but I feel as though these parents/kids are the primary concern.
Tw@ipifini.com June 01, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Mr.J was one of the best teachers in Sudbury.All three of my kids had her.
Clarabeau June 01, 2012 at 04:37 PM
This is NOT the first time Annette Doyle has refused to comment about the sudden firing of a teacher on her staff. Her stonewalling tactics are completely to protect herself. This behavior is so unprofessional. Back in 2001 when we first moved to town my son was in Mr Paleologus's fourth grade. He was a dynamic and enthusiastic young teacher, absolutely adored by class. By the beginning of October he was let go...no explanation to the kids or the parents. Ms Doyle refused to answer any queries presented by the parents. The students wondered if they were at fault and were devastated. The whole issue was swept under the rug. The core values of the school have very little weight when the powers that be ignore them. This is what we are putting up with! Not good enough! The school commitee needs to act now.
concerned2 June 01, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I don't believe so. I heard this from a friend who has a child in the class. They apparently also wrote a letter to Dr. Wilson, with no response to date. The process is clearly not working here and something needs to be done. There should be no "gag" order. As taxpayers, aren't we entiltled to know what was going on? Even if it was legitimate, we should know what the process is and if she was given a fair hearing. If not, town citizens should sue the school committee and Dr. Wilson.
Very concerned Noyes parent June 01, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Seriously!? I cannot believe that happened before?! Perhaps she got away with it because he was newer and did not have more of a support base? What can we do at this point besides show up at School Committee meetings and complain? There must be other ways to speak up?
Clarabeau June 01, 2012 at 07:04 PM
You're right..... he was a newbie that September and had not established a strong enough support group unfortunately. Ms. Doyle needs to realize that there is no place for autocracy in the Sudbury Public schools. We are all partners in the education system here in town. Let's have a free flowing line of communication.
Very concerned Noyes parent June 01, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Oh my goodness we got a letter from the Dr. Wilson. The kids in Mrs J's old class have been engaged in furniture moving therapy! Is this the best Dr. Wilson can do??! Not sure what the school committee members were thinking when they signed this letter!! If breaking up a fight is not against regs, like the letter states, then why was she told to resign??
Concord Rd June 01, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Very concerned Noyes parent- I'm pretty sure she said NOTHING in that about furniture moving therapy! She said they needed to remodel the classroom, obviously because Mrs. J does not care about children and took EVERYTHING from the poor kids. If it was truly, "All about the kids," as she said in the Patch video, wouldn't she have left them their books and posters until the end of the year? To your other question, it's because the "facts" the Patch has been spreading ARE WRONG! Don't believe everything Robert Fucci tells you is true...
Edward Stark June 01, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Pretty much everyone in town knows that Noyes Parent is a member of the school committee. Please take all of their posts with a grain of salt. Rob is an honest guy and tells it like it is. He has been dead on with his reporting over the last 3 weeks.
Edward Stark June 02, 2012 at 12:00 AM
When Anne Wilson made the following comment after Jeffrey Dee's accepted a position in Wellesley we should have known that she is in way over her head with a Superintendent job: "The unfortunate thing is principal salaries are lower here ... so are teacher, support staff and central office salaries," Wilson said. "I'm worried to lose people in all roles. When money comes into play it makes a difference. When you have to support a family and you're offered another $25,000, that's significant and can be frustrating. Until salaries become more competitive (in Sudbury), it will continue to be a concern. It's not the best situation." Leaders look for solutions to problems and do not make excuses and point fingers. This was a poor hire for SPS and there is very little to make the argument otherwise. Just remember that we gave Wilson (a first time Superintendent) more money than 3 time Superintendent John Bracket. So how does she reward us? With a slap in the face comment like the one above.
Very concerned Noyes parent June 02, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Noyes, Parent: Then perhaps someone could clarify what did happen? Mr. Fucci has asked all involved what happened, and the administrators have declined to comment. That's obviously the problem here. Just because the only comments he can report are one-sided, doesn't make Mr Fucci a liar! He has ASKED for the other side of the story-- We all want to hear the other side of the story!
Concord Rd June 02, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Clearly you didn't read Anne's letter very clearly, Very concerned Noyes Parent. Obviously you missed the part where she has stated over and over that she is legally not allowed to comment on personnel issues. Edward Stark- I am not a member of school committee, but a parent who actually is willing to open her eyes to the entire situation rather than read the "articles" published here. There are many sides to every story and I ashamed that my child goes to school with other children whose parents judge an entire school system based on rumors and gossip.
Incredulous June 02, 2012 at 01:39 AM
This is what I know...Mrs. J. Donahue is an extraordinary teacher and person. Thank goodness my child had her before she was fired. As for the remodeling of the classroom, Mrs. J. went to collect her personal items from the classroom as instructed by administration. She brought a friend along to help her carry the items because over the course of her teaching career, she populated her classroom with interesting items and homey touches (table lamps, etc.) to make the classroom feel less institutional and to add comfort to the learning environment. She was instructed to take the things that were hers so she spent a great deal of time doing that and hauling all of the stuff to her car by herself. She did not take anything from the kids. She took her personal items that she bought with her own money over the years. Mrs. J. has a tremendous support group in the community because she toiled for years building equity with the students and parents from town. Clearly "Noyes Parent" is very much an outlier. The letter we received via email today -- just a whole lot of bureaucratic mumbo jumbo to try to convince townspeople that everything is on the "up and up." I hardly think the letter appeased the folks who have brought forth very real questions and concerns with the process and the outcome.
Very concerned Noyes parent June 02, 2012 at 02:23 AM
NP: We were quite happy customers of the school system until recently. If they secretly let go one of your children's favorite teacher perhaps you would see things differently. And I have read the Superintendent's letter "clearly". The law does not prevent the administration from discussing an incident that children were involved in, especially if there are allegations of abuse, with those children's parents. Many of us would not be so upset if they were explaining what happened to those who really need to know. This whole thing smells really really bad.
2Labs June 02, 2012 at 03:00 AM
A gag order I believe is to protect the employee, not the state agency....so there shouldn't be a gag order here, if the employee is willing to let everything be known(which I would bet she is...as long as her pension is not threatened, which it should not be!). If she is willing to be open, then there is no reason for a gag order except to hide something on the part of the state agency (the school).....why wouldn't the school just tell the story? Problem solved! The school is spending taxpayer money on this settlement(having apparently hired an expensive Boston lawyer instead of the Sudbury one?), so the details should be public. A state agency likely shouldn't need to keep secrets in most cases. The superintendant says they are committed to the privacy laws. What are these laws, specifically? Someone recently posted a ruling in favor of removing a gag order like this one. So, it appears that the school department is using a gag order by choice and then saying they are forced by law to do so, which sounds like something is very wrong. Bringing out the truth seems the only way for a just outcome here. It will put everything right. The school committee should find a way to do that. Any lawyers out there who can shed light?
2Labs June 02, 2012 at 03:05 AM
I heard from folks on the scene that Mrs. J was forced to get her things out of the school. She must have been devastated to do this. It's really pretty awful for the superintendant to imply that the kids coming in to a completely different room at this stressful time could possibly be anything but horrible for them.
Cynthia Denessen June 02, 2012 at 03:15 AM
Concerned Teacher and Taxpayer This is NOT a good situation if "Noyes Parent" is a member of the school committee. Whoever it is does not have all the facts and does not have first hand knowledge of tjhe "leadership" at the Noyes School.
Liz June 02, 2012 at 10:42 AM
I had the same reaction to her comments. A real eye opener. She won't take questions from parents in her school system but she'll discuss salaries to a reporter? I'm afraid we're going to start losing good teachers (and not because of salaries).
Songs About Sudbury June 02, 2012 at 12:35 PM
Gutch seems more than willing to 'communicate' via email during election season but has not shown much leadership as 'vice-chairman.'
Connie Marotta June 02, 2012 at 06:55 PM
No. She was not allowed on the school grounds to get her things (Mrs. Moffitt told her this). Someone from central office gathered her belogings in a truck and dumped them in Mrs. J's garage.
Ann Hesenius August 21, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Kudos to you for accuracy, Edward Stark! :)
Elaine McGrath August 29, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Elaine McGrath I am only after finding out about this mess. Mrs. J Donahue is an outstanding teacher. Her mission is to open up the world of reading to every child who enters her door. I was a volunteer in her class for both of my children. Not only did my children learn, I learned. She has vision, stamina, passion and guts. And what a professional.

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