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Superintendent-director, district/committee, union all release statements; settlement agreement may have quietly been reached

UPDATED Oct. 11: Per a statement requested by and received by YourArlington on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28, from the Minuteman Regional Technical Vocational School District, that district's top official is resigning. Of note, the statement says that Superintendent-Director Kathleen Dawson has been declared innocent of sexual harassment. However, Dawson herself late the previous evening, commenting for the first time to local media, characterized allegations of inappropriate behavior made against her as having been not only groundless but in essence grounded in some parties' dissatisfaction with her necessary and competent decisions on entirely different matters. She also stated that her resignation would be effective Saturday, Sept. 30.

Minuteman School Committee has scheduled a flurry of meetings in recent days of various sorts -- Oct. 3, 5, 6 and Tuesday, Oct. 10 --  as per its website: www.minuteman.org/school-committee, apparently to attempt to resolve the situation with Dawson. The one held Tuesday evening Oct. 10 was the first in a couple of weeks to permit public comment, although submitted statements were read by the chair rather than by the submitters, which is unusual.

Details sought

So far, no one at the district or at the committee, including Arlington's own representative as of July, Sarah Montague, is willing to discuss what the agreed-upon settlement is, was or will be; or any other details.

The committee met briefly in open session Sept. 29; a report is below. Another short open-session meeting was held Oct. 3, consisting chiefly of Chair Jeffrey Stulin of Needham reading a statement, the entire text of which is on the district website.

In it, he says, in part, "Finally, as you know, we have recently signed a settlement agreement with the former Superintendent-Director Dr. Kathleen Dawson." It is not clear what is meant by "you know," as no previous announcement of this was publicly made at a meeting nor conveyed to the media despite many requests.

Stulin also states that the committee is actively searching for an interim superintendent-director -- to be hired before month's end and to serve through June 30, 2024 -- and also for a permanent superintendent-director, who would start July 1, 2024.

He also states, "Over the next weeks, relevant settlement financial details will be made available, and we will present numerous details regarding the superintendent search process."

Committee on Sept. 29 took three unanimous votes, divulged little

At the 20-minute online-only meeting on Sept. 29, Ford Spaulding of Dover and Sarah Montague of Arlington were absent. The votes were all 7-0 on the three measures proposed, all concerned with finding an interim superintendent. Since mid-May, Kevin Mahoney, who had previously retired from Minuteman as an assistant superintendent, has been back to Minuteman, as acting superintendent.

To "get the ball rolling," in the words of Stulin, the committee approved publishing a job description; forming a three-person ad hoc subcommittee for initial legwork -- "just launching the process," Needham emphasized, but not choosing a candidate; and developing an overall recruitment process, including a timeline and a budget, for the actual undertaking, with a report due in November, with hopes to have someone in place by July 2024.

There was no public comment allowed tonight, nor will there be at the Oct. 3, meeting, Stulin said, but there will be at the Oct. 10 meeting. "Thank you for your patience during these difficult few months," he said. "Financial details will be made available over the next week or two," he added, possibly referring to a buy-out of Dawson's contract or some other type of monetary settlement.

Earlier, Stulin mentioned that minutes from the April 11 and June 13 closed-door sessions would be released in their entirety soon but not any others at this time, implying that the outliers have significant bearing on what are presumably negotiations between Dawson and the district.

In total, two dozen were at the Zoom-only meeting, including parents, teachers, union officials and media.

Background to the situation 

The statement from the district, received by YourArlington on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 28, was said to have been made on behalf of the Minuteman School Committee.

These are the latest developments in a case that in spring manifested dramatically, with student walk-outs, a unanimous teachers' union vote of no confidence in Dawson and online petitions demanding dismissal of Dawson and retention of longtime popular Minuteman High School Principal George Clement.

Clement's contract ran out June 30, Dawson having refused to extend it; he ceased actively working before then; he has made no public statements; his effective ouster was one of Dawson's most controversial moves; and many students, parents and teachers publicly denigrated Dawson's overall management style, blaming it for the departure of up to half-a-dozen of Clement's then-subordinates.

Dawson began work July 1, 2022, and was put on administrative leave less than 11 months later, on May 11, 2023. Administrative leave generally means, and has meant in this case, that the employee is still being paid but is not actually working.

YourArlington has asked the district and the committee for what it believes to be public information, including:

* on what date Dawson's resignation was, or will be, effective;

* what any possible financial payout to her was, or will be;

* what the roll-call vote of the nine-member committee was, assuming that the committee voted on this matter, and when; and

* release of the minutes of all of the relevant "executive" or closed sessions of the committee.

At many of those meetings, the reason for the closed sessions was described as follows:

“a.  To discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of the Superintendent-Director, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual. b.  Pursuant to M.G.L.c.30A, Section 21(a)(2) for the purpose of discussing strategy as it relates to contract negotiations with non-union personnel: Superintendent/Director”

District-committee statement received by request by YourArlington on Sept. 28

Here is the text from the district, whose high school is attended by at least 200 Arlington teens:

"The Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical District School Committee and Superintendent-Director Dr. Kathleen Dawson have reached an amicable resolution, and she has resigned. The School Committee thanks Dr. Dawson for her contributions to education initiatives that supported effective learning outcomes for our students.

"The District hired an independent investigator to investigate allegations of inappropriate interactions with students and staff. The investigator’s findings included that there was no finding of sexual harassment by Dr. Dawson.

"Acting Superintendent-Director Kevin Mahoney and Interim Principal Kathleen Bouchard will remain at the leadership of our district as we begin the process to identify a new Superintendent-Director. Both Mr. Mahoney and Ms. Bouchard have significant experience at Minuteman. The committee is confident they’ll carry out the mission of the school with integrity and continue the important work of overseeing day-to-day operations. 

"It is our duty to the Minuteman community to provide guidance that fosters safe and thriving learning environments. We take that responsibility seriously. As such, the committee will collaborate with district administrators, faculty, students, staff, families and other members of the Minuteman community as we take on this transition together and recognize the appropriate pathways to the next stage of leadership.

"We would like to thank our nine member communities for their patience in allowing the district the time to make the best decision for students, faculty and staff at Minuteman High School."

Minuteman's current member communities are Acton, Arlington, Bolton, Concord, Dover, Lancaster, Lexington, Needham and Stow.

Faculty criticizes administration's message in letter sent Sept. 28

Peter Kelleher, current president of the teachers' union, released a letter as a response to the district's statement:

"The Minuteman Faculty Association [MFA], though relieved that a 'resolution' has finally been reached and [that] the last 15 tumultuous months can finally be put behind us, finds the [Minuteman] School Committee's announcement severely lacking. If not for the courage and persistence of the Minuteman faculty, students and parents, this matter would not only never have been closed but would never have been opened in the first place.

"To applaud Dr. Dawson’s educational 'contributions' whilst ignoring the faculty’s efforts and hardship during her tenure is simultaneously offensive and laughable.

"We further condemn the school committee’s language regarding 'no finding of sexual harassment' as intentionally deceptive, for the accusations made against Dr. Dawson were not of sexual harassment but of inappropriate and uninvited touching. The announcement reflects no care or concern for those who had the courage to come forward, and we question the message that this sends. We therefore demand that we and the public be informed of the investigator’s findings on the actual allegations.

"Finally, as the search for Minuteman’s new superintendent begins, we insist on a MFA member sitting on the committee, a thorough vetting process for all candidates and that our voice be heard and respected." 

Dawson's message sent to the media late Sept. 27

Dawson, who had previously declined to speak with YourArlington, sent an email just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, as follows:

"On May 11, 2023, the School Committee of Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District placed Superintendent-Director Dr. Kathleen A. Dawson on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into complaints received by the School Committee regarding allegations of inappropriate interactions with several students and faculty members. 

 "Upon the completion of the investigation by the independent legal counsel retained by the Minuteman School Committee, the findings concluded there was no evidence that the complaints constituted sexual harassment. None of the complainants alleged that any touchings were sexual in nature.
 
"Dr. Dawson identifies the motivation for these accusations as a response to unpopular decisions she made in the course of her work.
 
"In the interests of moving forward professionally and personally, to facilitate Minuteman’s important mission and in light of the hostile reaction that Dr. Dawson encountered pursuant to actions she took with either full school committee support, a strong sense of fiscal responsibility towards the Minuteman district or in alignment with DESE [the Massachusetts state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] expectations, Superintendent-Director Dawson has resigned effective Sept. 30, 2023. 
 
"Throughout the 2022-2023 school year, the [Minuteman] School Committee commended Dr. Dawson on the great job she was doing on a number of major and needed initiatives. She was praised for exceeding expectations and carrying out the criteria outlined in the Superintendent Profile for which she was hired to do. Dr. Dawson very much appreciates the recognition and support from the School Committee. 
 
"As she departs, Dr. Dawson is saddened she will not be able to continue to lead the district to ever greater accomplishments. However, she believes in the potential of Minuteman, and is confident that they will continue to achieve excellence for all students."

June 22, 2023: Montague named town's new Minuteman School Committee representative


This account by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published late Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. It was updated Sept. 29, to clarify the timeline to indicate that Dawson's statement in fact preceded those of the district/committee and of the teachers' union, having been issued via email late Sept. 27. YourArlington regrets the error. It was updated Oct. 2, to note the scheduling of four meetings of various types within a week's time between Oct. 3 and Oct. 10. It was updated Oct. 9, 2023, and Oct. 10, 2023, concerning the Oct. 10 meeting. It was updated Oct. 11, 2023, to very briefly provide context from the meeting of Oct. 10, 2023.