Groton schools consider whistle-blower policy

Groton - A Board of Education committee is considering a policy that would require employees to file a written complaint if they see wrongdoing by another employee, and would prohibit retaliation against those who file such complaints.

The board's policy committee will discuss the proposed policy at 5 p.m. today in the school administration building.

"I think it's a great idea and I think it's a long time in coming," said board member Robert Peruzzotti, who served on the board for 13 years but was not re-elected last month.

The proposed policy defines a complaint as "reporting what one reasonably and genuinely believes is wrongdoing by way of unethical or unlawful conduct by another employee, contractor, official or volunteer in the course of his or her employment or service for the board."

The draft comes nearly eight months after the school board fired Superintendent Paul Kadri on March 5 for alleged mistreatment of employees. Kadri was fired 10 months after he was placed on leave and the board ordered an investigation into claims he was bullying, harassing and intimidating employees, most of them women.

The proposed policy would require anyone with knowledge of wrongdoing to report it in writing, and for the superintendent or the superintendent's designee to investigate and report findings to the board.

The draft also states that the board will keep identities of employees who file complaints confidential to the extent possible, but that they must be prepared to answer questions and give examples of the wrongdoing. It defines wrongdoing as behavior such as mismanagement, dishonesty, fraud, neglect and other misconduct.

Interim Superintendent Sean McKenna said Groton has a community relations "Public Complaints" policy that provides for criticisms of the schools, but it is more global in nature.

McKenna said the draft is more specific to employees. But he emphasized that proposed policies are often discussed and adjusted over a period of months before a committee decides whether to bring that policy to the full board.

School board member-elect Mary Kelly said she was vaguely aware of the policy and could not comment on specifics.

But she said, "I can comment on the fact that I really do believe that there has to be a vehicle for employees to be able to go to people if they see an infraction, and to be able to report it without any fear of repercussions."

Under the proposed policy, if a complaint goes so far as to cause the board to suspect possible criminal conduct, the board may refer the allegations to another public agency for investigation. In this case, the policy states the person involved in the alleged misconduct may be placed on administrative leave.

The proposed policy specifically prohibits retaliation.

"Any individual that makes a report in good faith will not be discharged, disciplined, threatened, harassed, penalized or discriminated against for reporting what they perceive to be wrongdoing,'' the draft states.

It adds that if this occurs, the person involved in the retaliation "will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment."

The draft also specifies who an employee may file a complaint with.

For example, the proposal says an employee may report an instance of wrongdoing to an immediate supervisor if the supervisor is not involved, or to the person next in the chain of command, or the superintendent.

If multiple levels of the chain of command are involved, the draft says employees may file a written report directly to the school board.

Board member Chaz Zezulka, who served on the board almost 10 years but was not re-elected, said the board has steps for dealing with such issues, but he believes a specific policy would be of value.

"I feel you should have some sort of procedure in place so that people who do feel something is dishonest, unethical or they're being treated unfairly, they have an avenue to explore and to present their side without any recriminations," he said.


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