An unusually public dispute over the administration of a Maine school district is dividing people in Wiscasset, where the superintendent has recommended that a principal be fired in part due to the installation of a hidden camera in a school closet.
During a special meeting of the Wiscasset School Committee on Monday night, Superintendent Kim Andersson recommended that the committee dismiss Gina Stevens, the principal of Wiscasset Middle High School who has been on paid administrative leave since Oct. 30.
In a memo that Andersson shared with the committee members, she accused Stevens of having a hidden camera installed without permission near a food pantry in the school. She also alleged that Stevens had removed a student without following appropriate procedures, mistreated staff, baselessly accused students of vaping and failed to communicate with Andersson effectively.
The school committee has not yet acted on the recommendation and will hold another hearing on it in the future.
Under Maine law, such disciplinary matters involving school and government staff are often handled behind closed doors, with the public only learning about them when a person has resigned or been fired. And the substance of any complaints about those workers is not usually released to the public.
But in this case, Stevens has disputed the charges against her and invoked a part of the law that requires such proceedings to happen publicly, rather than in closed-door executive sessions.
Stevens’ attorney, Gregg Frame, said that she has nothing to hide and wants all the proceedings to be transparent.
He expects that she’ll be able to make her case directly to the public at an upcoming hearing on the complaints, which is not yet scheduled. Frame said they plan to rebut the allegations against Stevens at that time.
“Sunlight’s the biggest disinfectant there is,” Frame said. “She wants complete transparency.” He added, “We’re gonna have lots of documents, lots of witnesses who will be testifying, to each and every numbered charge.”
A number of Stevens’ colleagues have already come to her defense.
In a public letter to the school committee that was signed by 25 colleagues and shared with the Times Record, they expressed “strong support” for Gina Stevens. They credited her with improving the school culture since she started as an interim principal early this year and warned that some staff may leave if she is fired.
Turnout was also strong at Monday night’s meeting, with about 150 people showing up and many holding signs and voicing support for Stevens, the Times Record reported.
The superintendent of the district, Andersson, said she’s following the state laws for the dismissal of an employee after an investigation, which included giving Stevens two weeks after the notification of paid leave to gather legal advice and decide what to do
Next, there will be a dismissal hearing scheduled in the coming weeks, where the School Committee will vote on whether to fire Stevens. The assistant principal, Sarah Hubert, is currently acting as principal for Wiscasset Middle High School.
Andersson began work in the Wiscasset School Department on the same day Stevens became the full-time principal, July 1. She said that she’s “very upset” about the division the proceedings have brought to “our school community, staff and students.”
“I’m happy that people love their principal, but I have my job I have to do, and sometimes it’s not popular work,” Andersson said. “But it’s not about what’s popular. It’s about what’s right.”