After a public hearing spanning two nights and including nearly 13 hours of testimony, the Wiscasset School Committee unanimously voted to terminate Wiscasset Middle High School Principal Gina Stevens on Thursday, Dec. 21.
The hearing, which took place in the Wiscasset Elementary School gym in front of a crowd of 75 staff, students, and community members, as well as 100 attendees watching over Zoom, came close to two months after Stevens was initially placed on paid administrative leave on Oct. 30 after an investigation into a hidden camera placed within the building.
Stevens declined to comment on the committee’s decision.
“Because (Stevens and I) are so different, and we appeal to different types of people, I imagined an opportunity to really unify two different types of people that are here in our community … I think we have a lot of harm to repair, and a lot of work to do together as a staff,” Kim Andersson, superintendent of the Wiscasset School Department, said.
Andersson initially placed Stevens on leave following the discovery of a hidden camera in a special education classroom that also houses the school’s food pantry.
The school committee was scheduled to hold an executive session to discuss the personnel matter with Stevens in November. Stevens requested the discussion be held in a public session, which is her right under Maine law.
At the committee’s Nov. 13 meeting, Andersson read a memorandum advising the committee to dismiss Stevens as principal. In addition to detailing the installation of the hidden camera without notifying Andersson or the staff members who utilize the room, Andersson alleged Stevens investigated students for vaping without evidence and allowed a student to be removed from school without applicable law or process. Stevens denied all allegations described in Andersson’s memo.
The bulk of testimony at the public hearing, which took place on Wednesday, Dec. 20 and Thursday, Dec. 21, focused on the hidden camera, Stevens’ role in its placement, and whether other faculty and staff were made aware of its existence.
In her testimony, which spanned nearly three hours, Stevens said she initially discussed putting up a game camera in the classroom with Bob England, Andersson’s predecessor as superintendent. The intent of the camera would be to identify individuals who were trying to break into the food pantry and identify who was destroying the lock on the room’s front door, Stevens said.
According to Tanya Robinson, a previous director of the food pantry and former WMHS staff member as of Nov. 14, the lock on the door had been replaced at least six times during her tenure and she requested a camera be installed to help identify the responsible party.
The camera was installed on Sept. 29, Stevens said, adding that she was not specific about where in the room the camera should be placed.
Special education teacher Lindsay Larrabee said she and other staff members who work in the room were not notified about the camera’s installation.
In the lead up to this year’s homecoming celebration, Larrabee gave two students permission to try on donated dresses in the classroom. She and other staff members said they often allow students to change clothing in the space where the food pantry is located because they feel it is as private, if not more private, than changing in the school restrooms.
According to multiple testimonies, education technician Melinda Turner discovered the camera the next day. She informed Larrabee, who then informed Andrea Lovell, the district’s special education director. Lovell spoke to Stevens and notified Andersson about the situation.
On Oct. 3, Andersson emailed Stevens and IT consultant Brian Barrows – who Stevens said installed the camera – and directed them to remove the camera. Stevens confirmed on Dec. 21 the camera was removed from the classroom.
Following an hour-long deliberation in an executive session regarding a personnel matter, the Wiscasset School Committee’s Lewiston-based attorney, Daniel Stockford, of Brann & Isaacson, read aloud a resolution the committee constructed.
According to the resolution, the school committee believed all of the charges brought forward against Stevens in Andersson’s Nov. 13 memo were accurate.
“Gina Stevens’ conduct has lead to a loss of confidence by the superintendent and the school committee, and demonstrates a lack of fitness and ability to serve as an administrator for the Wiscasset School Department,” the school committee said in the resolution.
The school committee found that Stevens’ conduct constitutes cause for dismissal of employment. The committee voted 5-0 to terminate Stevens, effective immediately.
The decision was met with disbelief and disapproval from attendees, with many shedding tears and yelling at the school committee.
“You just failed your district, guys. Congratulations,” said WMHS teacher Alyson Graham.
Stevens declined to comment. Her attorney, Gregg Frame, of Taylor McCormack & Frame LLC in Portland, said an appeal is possible, and that Stevens has 30 days to appeal the committee’s vote. Frame said he thinks the case will likely be taken to the Lincoln County Superior Court.
WMHS Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Sarah Hubert has been acting principal since Stevens was placed on leave. Wiscasset School Committee Chair Jason Putnam said he is not sure when a new principal will be hired.
The next regular meeting of the Wiscasset School Committee is Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at 6 p.m. in the WMHS library.