Montville High administrator Orbe responds to allegations
Montville — Montville High School interim Assistant Principal Phil Orbe responded to allegations "involving an incident with a student" that landed him on paid leave on Monday.
Orbe said the incident, reported Monday, occurred "three to five weeks ago" and involved a student and a backpack.
The school district — which has placed three top administrators on leave in an unrelated matter — says the incident involves comments Orbe made to a student. While Orbe said he takes responsibility for his actions and words, he said he didn't feel the incident warranted the resulting scrutiny and consequences.
"There is a schoolwide expectation that students not have backpacks in the hallways," Orbe said Tuesday. "Three to five weeks ago, I came across a student in the hallway with his backpack. I have a very good relationship with the student and his family."
Orbe said he told the student, a male, it was the "fourth or fifth time" he had spoken to him about the backpack.
"I said, 'What do I have to do? Do I have to yell and scream?'" Orbe said.
Orbe said the student smiled.
"Jokingly, I added, 'Do I have to throw you down the hallway?'" Orbe said. "He smiled again and I smirked."
Orbe said, "The student, while smiling, said, 'I get it.' At no point did I raise my voice. At no point did I threaten him. At no point was my intent malicious."
But during this dialogue, Orbe said, a nearby classroom door was open. Orbe said acting Superintendent Laurie Pallin told him Monday students in that classroom recently went to a teacher and felt uncomfortable with the conversation and that parents had contacted her.
Orbe said he was told that, under the advice of the district's attorney, Pallin had no choice but to place him on administrative leave and make a referral to the state Department of Children and Families.
Orbe's situation happened the day students returned from spring break, less than a week after an administrative shakeup following the April 12 arrest of substitute teacher Ryan Fish, who allegedly refereed multiple slapboxing bouts in the middle of math class last fall.
The district placed Superintendent Brian Levesque and high school Principal Jeffrey Theodoss on paid leave last week. Police arrested Levesque, Theodoss and Assistant Principal Tatiana Patten on April 19 for allegedly failing to report the classroom fights to authorities.
Orbe — a long-time baseball coach and former athletic director — had been filling in for Patten, who was placed on paid leave in January.
"I take full responsibility for my actions and words," Orbe said. "I should not have had used those words or have had that discussion in a hallway where the possibility of it being misinterpreted existed. I understand why this administrative leave was imposed. As an educator, the safety of staff and students is my first and foremost concern. However, I do not feel this particular innocent exchange warrants the scrutiny that has followed or its consequences. I will allow this to play out and have faith in the process."
Pallin has said she cannot provide details on the incident. During a news conference Tuesday, she told reporters that in the wake of last week's arrests unrelated to Orbe, administrators and the Board of Education "made public commitments to ensure that all Montville students are guaranteed safe and excellent schools."
"We are addressing all issues with heightened scrutiny and the seriousness and attention they deserve," Pallin said. "We are reviewing internal processes and structures to ensure the safety of our students so we can refocus on our top priority: teaching and learning."
Jason Daly, assistant principal of Leonard J. Tyl Middle School, will help the high school in Orbe's absence while Pallin considers how to fill the spot, she said.
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