MIDDLETOWN, CT (WFSB) - Superintendent of Middletown Public Schools Michael Conner is stepping aside, effective immediately.
The decision was made during a special Board of Education meeting Monday night.
Conner had submitted a formal request for a leave of absence and the motion was carried by the board.
Chief Academic Officer Alberto Vazquez Matos will fill in for Conner until the board either votes to allow Conner to return to his position or appoints someone to serve as acting superintendent.
Conner is not permitted to act on behalf of the Middletown Board of Education or Public Schools.
Following Monday's Board of Education meeting, representatives issued a statement on Conner's behalf, saying:
“Based on advice from his doctors, Dr. Michael Conner, Superintendent of Middletown Public Schools, has taken FMLA and will return upon clearance from his doctors.”
The decision comes amid complaints formally made by the teachers union during a Middletown City Council meeting last week alleging school administrators, including Conner, had been harassing and intimidating Middletown teachers.
“Numerous past and present members have come to us with serious concerns about repeated harassment, intimidation, and retaliation by members of central office senior management,” said Ann Gregg, UPSEU President Local 6457 at a board of education meeting on Monday.
She claims former Middletown public school staff members felt this way.
“In addition, this evening, we have received statement from 15 former employees discussing the same concerns we are bringing forward tonight,” she added.
Earlier this year, Matos was asked to resign from his position with Holyoke Public Schools in March.
A month prior, he was put on leave. The Holyoke School District said it was a personnel matter.
The state gave him a one-time payout of $102,000.
The Middletown school’s spokesperson said Vazquez will be sending out a letter regarding the transition.
A joint statement from the mayor and council members on Tuesday said:
"We are glad to see the Board of Education taking this step towards a full and impartial investigation, which we hope will begin promptly, and support Dr. Conner’s decision to take a leave of absence as Superintendent while the investigation proceeds. This is a difficult time for Middletown Public Schools and for the whole Middletown community. An investigation that reveals all the facts and brings forth the truth will allow us to continue moving our district forward—ensuring that every student receives a great education, and every employee feels safe and supported at work."
Members from the Middletown Unions Coalition released a statement Tuesday saying:
"We are disappointed that the board of education (BOE) failed to see the need to place additional senior management team staff on leave during their investigation of the issues that we raised last week. If they had read the statements submitted by former district employees, it would be clear that the problem is bigger than any single official. An independent investigation that will reveal the truth demands integrity. Our members - and all the district’s administrative staff - are entitled to a workplace free of harassment and deserve a process that protects their rights. The fact that the BOE has yet to approach our coalition to further discuss the issues raised gives further rise to the appearance of a flawed investigation. It is our hope that the mayor and common council will remain involved in order to assure appropriate oversight. As a coalition, we intend to withhold further public comment on the matter at this time in order to allow the investigation to proceed."
The Board of Education selected Chairwoman Deborah Cain "as the Board’s liaison for addressing the personnel complaint and any other complaints related to the Superintendent”.
Following Superintendent Dr. Conner’s leave of absence, Dr. Alberto Vázquez Matos steps in as Acting Superintendent of Schools. He released a statement detailing his plans as acting superintendent.
"As I step into this role, I do so with an unyielding commitment to you, our students, and their families. Being an educator is my heart's work. It is at home, in community, and in school where children grow. When these places, especially schools, are safe and supportive, children flourish."
He adds that there are resources for Middletown Public School employees to reach out to if they need to talk to someone.
"I met today with the leadership team and administrators throughout the district, and I know that this is a particularly challenging time for all members of our school community, even while we all endeavor to do the important work of educating our children. If you are in need of support and would like to talk to someone, please remember that all employees of Middletown Public Schools have free access to our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This service is 100% confidential."
Click here for that resource.