Dismissal hearing on WMHS Principal-on leave Gina Stevens begins

Thu, 12/21/2023 - 8:45am

    Wednesday night, Dec. 20 at the start of Wiscasset school committee’s dismissal hearing on Wiscasset Middle High School Principal Gina Stevens, her lawyer said Stevens has the strong personality needed for the job and has done incredible work; the school department administration’s counsel said Stevens lacks the honesty and integrity a building leader needs.

    The hearing continues at 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 21 in the Wiscasset Elementary School gym. Or view it live via Zoom at https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82526599002?pwd=K8IBNfdqIw9E1BLk0tjknNCuAfppS5.1

    The hearing’s first six hours had some executive, or closed door, sessions; testimony from administrators and other employees; and lawyers’ opening statements on what to expect each party to present. Hearing officer Dan Stockford explained to the committee and the public in the WES gym and on Zoom, the administration, in recommending dismissal, has to show the events it alleges more likely than not occurred, a lighter burden than criminal court’s standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, he noted. But like in court, attendees were not to applaud or otherwise react, Stockford said.

    After opening statements, the parties would each present information that could include testimony and written materials, he said; the other party’s counsel and the school committee could ask questions, Stockford said; after lawyers’ closing arguments, the committee would deliberate in executive session, then return to public session for the vote; dismissal would take a majority vote, he said.

    Stevens has asked for a public process. Stockford explained in the hearing, some executive sessions would be needed for confidential information involving other employees or involving students. 

    At one point, Zoom was showing 53 remote attendees. 

    As in recent public statements, the parties Dec. 20 differed on whether Superintendent of Schools Kim Andersson knew a concealed camera was being installed in a food pantry at WMHS: Attorney Melissa Hewey, for the administration, said Andersson did not; Gregg Frame, for Stevens, said Stevens was informed Andersson had taken charge of information technology (IT) at the school; and Frame said Stevens made an IT request via googledocs about the camera.

    A witness the administration had testify, 35-year Wiscasset School Department employee Deb Pooler, said to her knowledge no superintendent has ever looked at one of those googledocs tech tickets. Those were just a way for the tech team to know what people wanted, she said. And to her knowledge, she and fellow tech team member Chelsea Taylor are the only two employees who have checked a box to receive notifications.

    Frame asked Mindy Turner, an educational technician III in the Aspirations program, if the camera, which was later removed, had been in plain sight, next to the dryer sheets. Turner responded, “Your plain sight is very different from mine. If anybody ... walked into the room, they would have never noticed it. It (was) pushed back, on the side, in the back. I don’t consider that plain sight. No, I don’t. Hidden in plain sight, perhaps.” 

    “Interesting,” Frame said.
    Lindsay Larrabee, special education teacher in the Aspirations program, testified to crying after Stevens, in a discussion of the camera, allegedly was screaming, pointing at her and at one point saying Larrabee was just a pawn in an administrative game. Larrabee said she has worked for the school department 12 years and had “never, ever been treated with such little respect. It was heartbreaking, actually.”
    Larrabee said the conversation happened in Athletic Director-Assistant Principal Sarah Hubert’s office. Hubert later testified Stevens “was raising her voice at Lindsay Larrabee,” that Stevens seemed “very, very angry and agitated ... Her lid was flipped,” and that Stevens said Larrabee was being used as a pawn between administrators; Larrabee was shaking and crying, Hubert said under Hewey’s questioning.
    Under Frame’s, Hubert said she and Stevens worked well together, and Stevens held students and staff accountable when necessary. Then he asked if Stevens “treated everyone the same way.” Hubert said, “I guess in the time that I knew her, I saw that she interacted with different staff differently, and I’m going to assume that is because she knew them longer than I did and don’t know (their) past history ...”
    “You ever find her untrustworthy when you were working for her?”
    “No, I trusted her,” Hubert told Frame.
    Andersson testified she did not know about a hidden camera in the food pantry until Oct. 3, and if Stevens had asked to put one there, she would have told her no, because that was part of a learning space, and “We don’t put cameras inside learning spaces, certainly not a hidden camera ...” She said Stevens told her about it Oct. 3 while telling Andersson two students undressed in the pantry because staff did not follow Stevens’ directive to only let students change in lavatories.
    Andersson said Stevens told her Larrabee requested the camera. Andersson said she asked Larrabee, Larrabee said she did not request the camera and, when Andersson later saw an email of Stevens arranging for the camera, she knew the situation was going to get terrible, because a lot of people love Stevens, but the school needed a principal that could be trusted. 
    The situation has torn the town in half, Andersson said. 
    Frame asked Andersson a question similar to one he had asked Hubert: Did Stevens hold students, staff and others accountable? Andersson said, “Well, yeah, except for this – like, not herself.”