Middletown Board of Ed Investigation Uncovers Misconduct Among Administrators

The investigation determined that former superintendent Michael Conner likely made unwelcome romantic and sexual statements and advances towards a senior administrator.

Middletown high school
NBC Connecticut

The Middletown Board of Education said a months-long investigation into claims of harassment among Central Office administrators showed that misconduct "more likely than not" occurred.

A full-scale investigation was initiated by the Board of Education in November 2021. Shipman & Goodwin, LLP conducted the investigation, which ultimately found multiple administrators appeared to have engaged in inappropriate conduct.

The counsel's report mentioned former superintendent Dr. Michael Conner (who has since resigned), Chief of Administration Christine Bourne, Chief of School Operations Marco Gaylord and Acting Superintendent Dr. Vázquez Matos.

Conner was placed on leave at his own request in October before the investigation started. It's unclear what specifically prompted the resignation.

15-page letter sent to the former superintendent's home in March is under investigation. It's unclear if this is related to Conner's resignation.

The investigation determined that Conner likely made unwelcome romantic and sexual statements and advances towards a senior administrator.

The report also mentions accusations of discrimination based on race, race/gender/age harassment, unprofessional or bullying behavior and more. All of these accusations were determined to be unfounded, stating that investigators didn't substantiate the allegations.

"I am grateful to all of those who came forward with their concerns about the administrators who were investigated. While I regret that this matter had to become the subject of a full-scale investigation, I am thankful to all who were involved in making sure it was a thorough and objective process once it became clear it was necessary, as well as the city and school staff who ensured that employees were protected and learning continued throughout the process, and to the public for their patience as the investigators performed their duty," Mayor Ben Florsheim said in a statement.

Counsel also investigated claims against Bourne. The report said it's likely that she engaged in unprofessional behavior when interacting when several employees. It also states that she didn't address certain payroll issues in a timely manner, engaged in nepotism and retaliatory conduct, and manipulated personnel decisions.

Bourne appears to have treated a former supervisor in the district in an unprofessional manner, the report said. Other allegations against Bourne were unsubstantiated.

"The summary report prepared by the Board’s attorneys indicted that appropriate action will be taken in response to findings that substantiated allegations of misconduct on the part of three administrators, and I trust that action will come quickly," Florsheim said.

The report said it's likely that Gaylord excluded key health services personnel from pandemic-related decisions and policy development, issued late and/or ineffective communication and was ineffective in enforcing district COVID-19 protocols.

Any and all allegations against Matos detailed in the report weren't supported, according to investigators.

Several other allegations against these administrators weren't substantiated, the report said.

"This marks the end of a difficult chapter for our schools and our community, and there is much work ahead for us to do in support of our students, teachers, and school staff. I am looking forward to moving forward, and ask for full transparency and community involvement in the Board’s next steps for the district, including the search for a permanent superintendent currently underway," Florsheim said.

Because of the findings detailed in the report, the Board said they'll take corrective action.

"Although not always definitive, the findings of fact highlight areas of deficiency in the administration and operation of the school district which are generally consistent with many of the allegations presented to the Board," the report said.

Board members spoke to councilmen during the city's quarterly common council meeting this past week and called for an "independent, fair and impartial investigation." A recording of the meeting is available here.

A total of 22 anonymous complaints were presented to the Board of Education in the fall of 2021. The claims were presented by a coalition of labor unions and other concerned individuals, the report states.

During the course of the investigation, an online portal was opened which allowed individuals to identify themselves as witnesses or raise concerns. The portal yielded over 100 intake reports, investigators said.

Over 90 people were interviewed and thousands of pages of material were sorted through over the course of the investigation. Conner, as well as several witnesses, declined interviews.

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