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2 p.m. - 3 p.m. Westerly

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Westerly School Committee upholds teacher suspension

WESTERLY — After an evidentiary hearing and subsequent discussion among School Committee members that lasted three hours Wednesday night, the committee narrowly upheld Superintendent Roy Seitsinger Jr.’s recommendation to suspend a district teacher for three days without pay.

The 4-3 vote followed a lengthy and, at times, seemingly intense dialogue among committee members that happened, along with the hearing, behind closed doors in executive session in the Springbrook Elementary School library.

Chairman David Patten, and members James Murano, Gina Fuller and Mary Raftery reaffirmed their support of Seitsinger’s recommendation to suspend the Springbrook teacher.

Mario Celico, Jay Goodman and Diane Bowdy voted against.

Attorney Jon Anderson, of Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, was the legal advisor to the School Committee. He and Patten declined comment on the details of the suspension, saying personnel decisions are not required to be made public.

Among those who attended the hearing were Assistant Superintendent Alicia Storey; Springbrook Elementary Principal Victor Ventura; Westerly Teachers’ Association President Brendan Murphy; and a court reporter. Seitsinger was unable to attend.

Wednesday was a continuation of the hearing that began July 23 but was cut short due to one committee member’s need to leave the hearing early. As required by Rhode Island General Law, all members of the School Committee must be present for the hearing.

At a special meeting in June, the School Committee approved the superintendent’s recommendation to suspend the teacher by a 4-1 vote. At that time, Patten, Murano, Bowdy and Fuller voted in favor, with Celico voting against.

According to minutes from the meeting, Raftery and Goodman were unable to attend.

Since that time, the teacher requested an evidentiary hearing in which facts are presented in a court-style hearing with attorneys representing both sides.

“It’s a more thorough and deeper review of all the facts,” Patten said of the process. “At the end of the hearing, the School Committee can reaffirm its prior vote, modify it, or reject it.”

Sara Rapport, of Whelan, Kinder & Siket LLP, represented the school district administration. Patten explained that though Jon Lallo is the appointed solicitor for the school district, they sought counsel from two Providence firms due to their expertise in school and personnel matters for this hearing.

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