School Board hears
GOFFSTOWN - At
a grievance hearing on Tuesday evening, Sept. 15, a Goffstown High School teacher argued to the School Board that she was only trying to help a Mountain View Middle School administrator by sending her e-mails about “rumors,” but the school district maintained those e-mails were threatening and harassing.
Donna Pinard, a special education teacher at Goffstown High School who formerly taught at Mountain View, received a letter of discipline from Superintendent Stacy Buckley because of e-mails she sent to Assistant Principal Jennifer Gillis. Pinard took on the issue as one of free speech in her grievance hearing, trying to have the letter removed, while the district maintained it was an employment and discipline matter.
In the discipline letter, Buckley wrote that one of the e-mails was “divisive and damaging to the district.”
The e-mail that prompted the discipline was sent May 30 to Gillis’s work e-mail address. In it, Pinard wrote that she heard Gillis said she adhered to what Pinard called the “dead wood philosophy” of educating, which she explained as a new administration targeting certain staff members with “the sole purpose of getting rid of them.” The e-mail said Pinard heard that Gillis spoke about the philosophy in a graduate course at Plymouth State University.
Pinard went on to say, “I do not know if you really adhere to this philosophy or not,” but offered to explain, “how I and others express ourselves regarding the ‘dead wood’ philosophy.”
“We would say what goes around comes around. Evenutally, one will be in the situation where they are the ‘dead wood.’”
She also wrote, “My personal philosophy is that administrations who participate in this type of behavior are morally and ethically bankrupt. It is a form of evil.”
In her testimony, Gillis said the e-mail “freaked her out,” citing the “we group” referenced in the e-mail and the assertion that what goes around comes around. “Was I going to meet with a ‘we group’ in the parking lot after work one day?” Gillis asked. She said did not adhere to the “dead wood” philosophy.
But Pinard’s lawyer, Jon Meyer, pointed out that in the e-mail, Pinard offered to stop e-mailing Gillis about rumors if that was what she wanted. Pinard testified that the “we” was the group who had been discussing the rumor.
Buckley said the e-mails contained fourth-party rumors that did not deserve credence, and constituted personal attacks that were not protected criticism of the district.
Pinard testified that she had no animosity toward Gillis and did not mean to threaten or harass her.
“I actually love Jen Gillis. We were colleagues for four years,” Pinard said. She said she absolutely did not consider her e-mails personal attacks. She said she wanted Gillis to be aware of what people were saying about her.
“When I heard these rumors I actually went to her directly, because I actually wanted her to succeed,” she said.
“I was actually intending to help her,” Pinard added later.
Pinard said she is opinionated and said it was her right to say what she wanted as a citizen of the town, even if it was directed to a fellow district employee.
“There should be free speech among citizens of the town,” Pinard said.
When the district’s lawyer, Ed Kaplan, asked if that applied in the workplace, no matter what it is and how it upsets a co-worker, Pinard said yes.
“I’m a very opinionated person, that’s true. I serve it up even when people don’t want it,” Pinard said.
Meyer, Pinard’s lawyer, emphasized that she had not been asked to stop e-mailing Gillis, nor was there any policy about such e-mails on the books.
Two previous e-mails Pinard sent to Gillis about rumors were also discussed. One said Pinard had heard that Gillis’s child was telling people he got Gillis to transfer Pinard; another said Pinard had heard Gillis and another teacher making fun of a third teacher during work.
Pinard said she had no personal animosity toward Gillis.
Pinard was previously disciplined for raising her voice to a parent in 2008, and was transferred from the middle school to the high school after sending what School Board Chairman Keith Allard said were “dozens of e-mails” to him. One of the e-mails read aloud at the grievance hearing complained that Mountain View’s Principal Jim Hunt was asking for an administrator to be in charge of discipline when he could have used pre-existing methods at the school.
“He has destroyed us and continues to do so,” she wrote in that e-mail, according to Allard.
Buckley, the superintendent, said bringing her concerns to Allard overstepped the chain of command, but Pinard said she sent them as a citizen.
The School Board deliberated in a nonpublic session, and will deliver a written statement deciding whether Buckley was right in disciplining Pinard or, as she maintains, if it was her right to send such e-mails.