Principal placed of administrative leave, parents ask why

This article appeared on December 3, 2014 in The Gardner News. 

The principal, a guidance counselor and a teacher at Helen Mae Sauter Elementary School have been placed on paid administrative leave affective Nov. 21.

“There is an investigation underway,” said Superintendent Denise Clemons, who could not comment further on the matter as it is a personnel issue.

Officials said it may be related to an incident of a student being videotaped without consent.

At this time, the police department is not involved in the investigation, according to Chief Neil Erickson. Media outlets were told the incident is not criminal in nature but related to a school policy that was allegedly broken.

The information became public when the “Hms Pto” Facebook group posted to the Helen Mae Sauter PTO Facebook page at 8 p.m. on Monday saying that Principal Janet Smith, guidance counselor Deb Leone and second grade teacher Denise Ulrich have all been put on administrative leave.

The post said it was “in response to questions we have been receiving about the three faculty members.”

The post was removed before midnight, as the comments section spiraled out of control. However, eliminating the post did little to calm concerned parents.

“That tells me they are hiding something,” said parent Kimberley Fagan.

Ms. Fagan is hoping for a swift investigation, as she feels the absence of the faulty members has created a disruption in the education of her daughter, who is a special education student.

As one parent phrased it, “we get a call for every other little thing to not be informed that our school’s principal has been gone for almost two weeks and no one will say anything?”

While much of what happens at the schools is public information, personnel issues are confidential, according to the city’s Director of Human Resources Debra Pond.

“It’s for the protection of the employee and the employer,” she said. “People take a small amount of information and make it into something it’s not. That’s why it’s confidential.”

The School Committee has a meeting schedule for Monday where it is feasible the situation could come up for discussion. However, as of this time, there has not been an executive session for the administration to inform the school committee on the matter.

“We are not commenting on it as it is a  personnel issue,” said Committee member Carol Bailey when contacted Tuesday evening.

Ms. Smith has held the principal position at the Helen Mae Sauter School since 2012, according to city records. Although, she has worked for the School Department for significantly longer.Many parents are hoping the administrator and two faculty members will be reinstated soon.

“The integrity and character they display to the children is second to none, and the dedication they have to HMS and our students is more than any parent could ask for,” the HMS PTO wrote in their press release yesterday.

“They really are amazing at their jobs, and we cannot wait for their return.”


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