GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 13, 2013

Worker claims 'abusive' regional school workplace

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — MANCHESTER — Students and staff members of the Manchester Essex Regional School District have a standard policy when it comes to allegations of bullying or harassment.

One employee, Maureen MacLeod, is now raising questions about how abuse and harassment grievances involving supervisors and other workers are handled — or not handled.

In a letter addressed to the regional School Committee, care of Superintendent Pamela Beaudoin, to the Manchester selectmen, care of Town Administrator Gregory Federspiel, and to the Times, among others, MacLeod says that she has been the victim of verbal abuse from the food service director, Sheila Parisien.

Although Parisien is not mentioned in the letter by name, MacLeod cites her title and writes that her allegations are nothing new; she states that grievances about verbal abuse and harassment have been ignored, according to the letter sent this week.

”The school district food director has, for years, been able to circumvent this policy,” writes MacLeod, a Manchester resident who has been employed with the district for 13 years and served as high school kitchen manager for the last seven. “Further, it disturbs me to reveal that during my 13 years of employment with the school district, this issue has been brought to the attention of two district superintendents.”

Citing the allegations as a personnel issue, school officials declined to comment on the letter Thursday and Friday. Linda Crosby, who chairs the regional School Committee, referred comments to Beaudoin.

Thursday, Beaudoin said she had not seen the letter herself as she was out of the office, but School Committee members said Thursday they had been made aware of the letter through Beaudoin.

“The district does not comment on personnel matters,” Beaudoin wrote in an email to the Times. “The district does have clearly established policies and protocols that are used to manage staff complaints.”

Whether it is a student, a staff member, or a faculty member who reports abuse, officials are required to start an investigation, according to the district’s policy manual. That investigation can include personal interviews with the person who filed the complaint, those the complaint is filed against, and others who may have knowledge of an alleged incident.

The investigator will also consider the nature of the allegation, past incidences or continuing patterns as well as the relationship between the people involved.

Beaudoin said this process is conducted by someone within the district.

In a phone interview, MacLeod declined to discuss the specifics of any alleged abuse. She also stated in her letter she was not the only one who has been harassed, but did not specify other employees who have been harassed or abused.

”The food director has been successful in creating an unbearably verbally abusive environment,” her letter reads. “I, too, am a victim of this abuse. I have been verbally abused and I have had to work in extremely uncomfortable working conditions.”

District policy states that, once the investigation is completed, the principal of the building where the complaint originated must file a written report with the human rights officer, and the report will include a determination on whether or not the allegations are true. When that process ends, the person who brought up the grievance will be told whether or not the alleged harassment was found to be true and what, if any action was taken.

The district may make the person responsible issue an apology, stop the offensive behavior, go into counseling or training, or face a warning, suspension, expulsion, transfer, termination or discharge, as long as the process falls within contracts with employees in addition to local, state and federal laws.

”In the case of substantiated harassment by an employee, the superintendent will include a written statement of the findings, the corrective action taken, and the consequences of continued harassment, in the individual’s personnel file with a copy to place in a file kept in the central office for a period of 60 years,” district policy states.

”These are all internal personnel policies we use to manage the system,” Beaudoin said of general district policies. “Personnel records are private.”

Parisien could not be reached for comment Friday, but she is credited with playing a key role in making school district meals healthier by gauging student opinion, according to an article by the state Department of Secondary Education’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program.

MacLeod’s letter also states she has filed a formal complaint with the school district and has contacted a lawyer. And she does have other routes to pursue, according to school district policy.

MacLeod can also file charges with the Massachusetts Department of Education, the state Commission Against Discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

MacLeod also wrote that she is concerned for her own future with the school district.

”If I do not return in September it is because I can longer tolerate the hostility that exits in this workplace,” the letter states. “I will truly miss seeing all of your children. It has been my pleasure to serve so many of them over the years and watch them grown into fine young adults.”

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.