Tensions ran high at a special Wiscasset School Committee meeting on Monday, Nov. 13 and a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
The committee held a special meeting on Nov. 13 to discuss a personnel matter involving Principal Gina Stevens, who was put on paid administrative leave by Wiscasset School Superintendent Kim Andersson on Oct. 30 following an investigation into a hidden camera placed in the school food pantry in room 111 of Wiscasset Middle High School in late September 2023 without knowledge of the current or past superintendent, according to Andersson.
The committee planned to hold separate executive sessions to discuss the personnel matter with legal counsel and to discuss the matter with Stevens directly. Personnel matters are normally handled confidentially, but Stevens requested that it be handled in the public eye, as is her right under Maine law governing executive sessions.
“They can’t silence all of us,” she said on Nov. 13.
Public comment was not allowed at the meeting, much to the disapproval of attendees. Many were eager to share their opinions with the committee, but were met with requests from the school committee to observe silently.
As the discussion at the special school committee meeting was in regard to a personnel matter, the public was not allowed to comment, according to Chair Jason Putnam and Andersson.
“Because there’s no public comment on a personnel matter, we did not put it on the agenda,” said Andersson.
The district’s public participation at committee meetings policy, which is posted at wiscassetschools.org, states, “No complaints or allegations will be allowed at Committee meetings concerning any person employed by the school system or against particular students.”
After the executive session with legal counsel, Andersson read aloud a memo she addressed to the school committee, describing her reasoning for advising the committee to dismiss Stevens as principal. The memo was dated Monday, Nov. 13.
“I understand that emotions are running high, but this is not an emotional event, this is just simply the job,” Andersson said.
The memo described instances where Stevens allegedly exhibited poor judgment and behavior during her time as principal, accusing Stevens of installing a hidden camera without notifying Andersson or the staff who work in room 111, allowing a student to be removed without applicable law or process in March 2023, and investigating students for vaping without evidence in September 2023.
The mother – a staff member at WMHS – of the student that was indefinitely removed from school has since filed a complaint with the Maine Department of Education, according to Andersson.
Andersson alleged that Stevens questioned two students in relation to the potential vaping incident directly after it occurred, separately accusing each of them of vaping without finding evidence of the incident taking place.
The two students who were questioned about vaping in the school restroom avoided using the restroom the next day, according to Andersson. Because of this, the students changed their clothing in a closet in room 111 on Oct. 2, the location where Stevens allegedly placed a hidden camera.
Stevens has denied all allegations mentioned in the memo.
“A principal must be honest, exercise good judgment, be accountable, and communicate early and often with the superintendent about situations that could give rise to potential legal liability, or when the principal is unsure of how to do their job,” Andersson said in the memo. “As described below, Ms. Stevens has been dishonest, shown tort judgment, failed to communicate with me, demonstrated a lack of accountability, and contributed to unnecessary legal risk for the school department. Moreover, she has not been supportive of all students and staff.”
“She can no longer be trusted to do her job,” Andersson said.
Andersson’s memo was met with disapproval from attendees, with many holding their signs higher and laughing at accusations made regarding Stevens’ behavior and her approach to discipline.
A resignation was handed to Putnam as the special meeting was adjourned. Neither Putnam nor Andersson identified the individual who resigned.
“We really hope that she’ll change her mind,” Andersson said.
“I am really not happy about the way the town has handled this. This was a confidential personnel matter; (Stevens) decided to make it public. In the meantime, an incredible amount of lying, and insulting, and embarrassing behavior was engaged in by this town … I can’t believe it, it’s despicable,” Putnam said.
During the committee’s regular meeting on Nov. 14, members of the public took their chance to comment on the current events involving Stevens and the school committee.
Before the public comment portion of the agenda began, Putnam read aloud the conditions in the public participation policy. However, it did not deter the public from commenting on the personnel matter involving Stevens.
“I think we’re all here because we support Gina Stevens and we don’t support the board, as we can all see, so my question is, when are you all going to resign?” said John McLaren, who was met with applause from numerous attendees.
“What we got to listen to was one side of the facts, not what I expected to see. I don’t think anybody here was expecting to see one side of the story … Let’s keep in mind, seven weeks of school when this transpired … under Ms. Andersson’s watch, seven weeks, and this is what we got. Not sure how much more of that we can take,” said Chet Grover. “We came here to find out what the heck is going on in our schools, and we didn’t hear much for facts at all.”
Andersson said she has a child who is a senior at Wiscasset Middle High School, and her “heart breaks” for what the community is going through at this time.
Gregg Frame, of Taylor McCormack & Frame LLC in Portland, said that the next step for him and his client, Stevens, will be to compile documentation and a list of witnesses that can corroborate Stevens’ actions.
“We have evidence that the superintendent was aware (of the hidden camera) as early as Aug. 30,” he said of the accusations made against Stevens.
Frame said he looks forward to shining light on the situation.
“Sunshine’s the biggest disinfectant there is,” he said.
The committee voted to hold a hearing at a time to be determined, and will ultimately vote to decide if Stevens will be dismissed from her position as principal. Putnam said the hearing is likely to be scheduled for some time in December.
Andersson’s memo is posted at shorturl.at/rwDS7.