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New London legal fees mount after teacher terminated

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: The Day

Published April 27. 2013 4:00AM

New London - Lawyers charged the school district more than $100,000 in legal fees as a result of the termination of a tenured middle school teacher who the superintendent of schools said failed to meet standards for effective teacher performance.

Claudia Kenyon, whose contract was terminated April 4, is the only teacher to have been terminated under the school district's revised evaluation plan, which was instituted in the 2010-11 school year.

Legal fees reached a total of $114,023, of which $101,770 was billed for attorneys' work from October 2011 through March 2013. The district also paid its insurance carrier, Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency (CIRMA), $12,252 for their lawyer to attend arbitration hearings related to the case.

All the legal bills related to the termination have been paid, Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said Thursday.

Legal work for the district by the law firm Siegel, O'Connor, O'Donnell & Beck began in September 2011, a month after Fischer notified Kenyon - who had been teaching in New London since 1996 - that termination of her contract was under consideration.

The Day obtained information on the cost of legal fees for the district through a Freedom of Information request.

A language arts teacher, Kenyon was switched to social studies in the 2010-11 school year, a subject she'd never taught before.

New London Education Association President Rich Baez said Tuesday that Kenyon "fought the process" and that the district "set her up to fail."

He said her evaluations prior to 2010 had been stellar.

"They spent money to get rid of a teacher when they could have spent the money to keep the teacher and help her get better, that would have been more admirable," Baez said. "When I represented her in the evaluation process, she was not given fair treatment. Questions were noted for the record but never answered. ... I don't understand why they would spend $114,000 to get rid of a teacher, especially one that for 17 years did an excellent job by their own records."

When the Board of Education voted to terminate Kenyon's contract earlier this month, Fischer said her contract was terminated because she did not meet the standards for effective teacher performance.

The district's revised evaluation plan, which the school board adopted in August 2010, contains a Structured Assistance Plan, which consists of three levels of intensive assistance provided to the teacher. Each level of the structured assistance plan carries additional responsibilities and requirements for a teacher to become eligible to come off the plan. For teachers who have been identified as struggling, there are options for extra support.

According to the revised evaluation, a teacher is either placed back on the regular evaluation cycle or recommended for termination after 45 days on Level III.

Kenyon was placed on the assistance plan and reached the third level of assistance. During that time period, she was observed eight times by five evaluators. Fischer said she also received extremely intensive assistance and that she admitted "in several instances" there were areas she needed assistance in.

"There was substantial evidence as a part of the evaluation process that merited the steps we took," he said on Thursday.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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