YORK, Maine — School Committee candidate Cheryl Neiverth has been “aggressive,” “rude” and “insulting” toward administrators and staff on a number of occasions in the past four years, according to school department documents obtained by the York Weekly recently.
Neiverth strongly contests those characterizations. She said she does not deny she is a strong advocate for children, particularly special needs children, including her son. But she said the information as presented “is not accurate.” The onus rather should be on the administration not to put up “roadblocks” against her and others, with the resulting effect of “stonewalling parents.” This, she said, is at the heart of the matter.
The documents, received through a Freedom of Access Act request to the York School Department, were first sent to the Weekly via an anonymous email.
The York Weekly filed a separate FOAA request to confirm the validity of the documents. In the days after, School Committee member and candidate Meredith Schmid said on York Community Dialogue that she sent the initial email to the Weekly after requesting “correspondence that is between the York School Department and York School Committee candidate Cheryl Neiverth concerning access to property.” She said she was moved to do so after hearing about Neiverth’s periodic “intimidating and threatening behavior” toward staff.
The heavily redacted documents do not contain the names of any students. Superintendent Lou Goscinski said in a letter to parents last week that the department is required by law to release documents requested under FOAA, with the exception of records designated as confidential — personnel and student records key among them.
The documents date to September 2015. Most deal with Neiverth’s interactions during the tenure of former Superintendent Debra Dunn; the most recent details an incident in February at the Central Office at York Corner and involves Goscinski and the front office staff.
On Dec. 3, 2015, police were called to the Central Office, according to the documents, after an incident there involving Dunn and, earlier, with former Village Elementary School principal April Noble. According to the police report contained in the documentation received by the Weekly, Neiverth had left the building prior to officers’ arrival.
Dunn told police Neiverth “was yelling in her face and acting very aggressive by waving her hands in her face and mocking her when she spoke.” Dunn said she felt “threatened” by Neiverth and did not want her returning to the building. This incident occurred after Neiverth was at VES, where police said she “began to yell in April’s face and refused to leave when she was asked to several times.”
Neiverth said it is “important to put this in context.” She said her son had been injured at school and she was trying to obtain information about what happened. “I was stonewalled at every turn,” she said, alleging a nurse was not on duty but she could not find out why. “So yes, I’m quite sure I did raise my voice. I also know I am not the only parent who feels this way in the community.”
As a result of these incidents, police issued Neiverth a “notice to cease harassment” of school personnel, stating she was not to enter or remain on the property of either VES or Central Office for a period of 14 days. At its conclusion, Dunn said in a letter to Neiverth and her husband, Douglas, she would not pursue a renewal of the order, but said Neiverth’s interaction with the schools would be limited.
In an undated letter, but after Erin Frazier took over as director of special education in June 2016, Dunn told Neiverth she was no longer allowed to attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meetings with parents of students with special needs. Neiverth has a deep working knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Act provisions, the federal special education law; she had been apparently invited by parents to act as a friend, supporter or advocate for them when these team meetings took place.
Dunn said in the letter that Neiverth was allowed to participate by phone or conference call, but not in person. “In virtually every meeting, you have been antagonistic toward the staff participating in the meeting and the persons running the meeting. You use sarcasm toward team participants, speak over team members, become angry and express that anger, and intimidate most school members of the team into not participating in the discussion.”
“Again, challenging the administration is met with this type of response,” said Neiverth. “I am a strong advocate for children. At the end of the day, this is about what is best for the children even if it means challenging those making the decisions that affect our children every day.”
On Feb. 13, 2019, Neiverth came to the Central Office without an appointment and asked to speak with Goscinski. According to Goscinski, the front office staff told her he was unavailable, although it is clear from the email thread that Neiverth believed she had been told he was not in his office at all.
She left the front office and went to a second door close to Goscinski’s office, which was unlocked. She found him in his office and said she “simply walked back to the front and informed the woman who said you had gone, that you had not. There was no name calling, no voices raised — I was extremely civil.”
Goscinski had a different take. Neiverth’s behavior that day, he said in an email, “was perceived by others as rude and insulting. My staff deserves to be treated with civility and common courtesy. You have made the very wrong assumption that my staff lied. That is not the case and I must call you out in this.”
In a subsequent letter to her written in April, Goscinski said she would have to phone in advance to make an appointment, which “will permit our staff to be prepared for your arrival, both in terms of being ready to assist you with your needs but also being prepared emotionally for possible negativity that you may express or model upon arrival.”
Neiverth points out his letter to her was sent two months after the incident itself, one week after she declared her candidacy. “Neither Mr. Goscinski nor his staff were uncomfortable enough to have written a letter limiting my attendance at their office at any point between Feb. 13 and April,” she said.
On April 30, the same day the Weekly emailed the documents to Neiverth and asked to meet with her, she published excerpts of the email on York Community Dialogue. This set off a number of responses, including a slew of comments from her supporters who called into question the motivations of both the school department and the Weekly.
By end of day May 1, Goscinski sent a letter home to all parents and guardians regarding the department’s role under the Maine FOAA. “When we receive a request for public records,” he wrote, “we are required by law to make such public records available, without exception, to the person making the request. When we do so, we do not and have not disclosed records that include information made confidential by law” — student and personnel records being “the most important categories of confidential records.”
On Friday, May 3, Schmid, who is seeking reelection to the School Committee, released a statement on York Community Dialogue. She said she sent the initial documents to the Weekly. She said she made the FOAA request after hearing from “several concerned community members (who) told me that Ms. Neiverth had been restricted from accessing school property after exhibiting intimidating or threatening behavior. These allegations left me with concerns about Ms. Neiverth’s ability to work respectfully and collaboratively with school staff, teachers, administrators and parents.”
Neiverth said she felt Schmid’s motivation in disseminating the information “lies in getting reelected,” adding Schmid didn’t reach out to her or her husband in advance of sending the email to the Weekly.