Middletown Public Schools Superintendent Michael T. Conner was placed on leave at his own request Monday night as the Board of Education grapples with allegations of harassment and intimidation among school administrators.
At a special Board of Education meeting on Monday night, board members voted in favor of a motion to investigate the allegations, and in favor of a motion to grant Conner a leave of absence, effective immediately.
A spokesperson for Conner said the superintendent made the request for family medical leave (FMLA) at the advice of his doctors and "will return upon clearance from his doctors."
This comes after several school unions have called on city officials to take action on several anonymous complaints, and the issue came to a head during a common council meeting last Thursday night.
"Numerous past and present members have come to us with serious concerns about repeated harassment, intimidation and retaliation by members of Central Office Senior Management. Our members no longer feel safe expressing these concerns through the channels provided through the Board of Education and City of Middletown," UPSEU Local 6457 President Ann Gregg said during the meeting.
Gregg went on to say that union representatives received statements from 15 former employees prior to the meeting last Thursday. She also said that past members who have brought up issues in the past have been ignored.
Erica Hunter, a Middletown resident, said she supports the Board of Education and the superintendent and called the allegations of mistreatment "baseless."
"I believe that he's actually doing his job and this is his first job as a superintendent and he's done a phenomenal job," Hunter said.
David Roane, another Middletown resident, believes Conner, who is Black, is being targeted because of his race.
"The accusations being made against him if he was not a Black man, they would not be making them," Roane said.
Others, including former school employee Jim D'Antonio, said these issues have nothing to do with race and everything to do with how people have been treated.
"There's a lot of us that worked here that were treated very badly and had to leave for our health, people that wouldn't speak up because they're afraid to," D'Antonio, who worked as a custodial manager, said.
He added that these issues are not limited to the current administration.
"There's more people involved than just the superintendent," he said.
Others, including William McKissick, the pastor at New Jerusalem Christian Center Church and Moses Harvill, pastor at Cross Stree AME Zion Church, said they were concerned with making sure the process and any investigation is done fairly.
The Board of Education chair has been appointed to address any personnel complaints against the superintendent, which includes hiring investigators for an investigation.
Mayor Benjamin Florsheim, Majority Leader Councilman Eugene P. Nocera and Minority Leader Councilman Philip J. Pessina collectively issued a statement about the allegations after last week's meeting.
"The allegations we received about conduct at Middletown Public Schools are deeply upsetting and totally inconsistent with Middletown’s values—as a city and as a school system. They warrant a full, fair, and independent investigation as to their veracity," the statement reads.
"We urge the Board of Education to take immediate steps to ensure such an investigation is initiated and anticipate full cooperation by all parties involved so that our outstanding educators can continue their critical mission of providing a quality education to all Middletown students," the statement continues.