WATERVILLE — People who attend a public dismissal hearing scheduled for Tuesday night involving Waterville Senior High School Principal Don Reiter will witness a process unlike what they would see at a regular Waterville Board of Education meeting, but instead much like what they might see in a courtroom.

Reiter, who has been on paid administrative leave for more than two months for a reason that has not been made public, will have a chance to defend his position that he has done nothing wrong and should have his job back.

Superintendent Eric Haley will explain why he recommended Reiter be dismissed from his job.

Both sides will present evidence at the hearing, scheduled for 6 p.m. in the gymnasium at the George J. Mitchell School. Haley said on Oct. 19, when the date of the hearing was first made public, that it would be held in a place large enough to hold everyone who wants to attend.

Each side will call witnesses and will have the opportunity to cross-examine. It will be much like a court trial, except that Board of Education members will act as both judge and jury.

After all the evidence is presented and everyone has had a say, the board will deliberate in private. Reiter and Haley and their attorneys will be able to sit in on deliberations but may not speak.

Board members could decide Reiter did nothing inappropriate and should be returned to his job. They may decide he should be fired or they may decide to take no action.

The board also has the authority to impose a lesser action than dismissal, such as discipline, according to Bryan Dench, an attorney representing the Board of Education.

“The board will have some options for its decision, depending on what it considers the facts to be,” Dench said.

Dench, of Skelton, Taintor & Abbott, of Auburn, has conducted dozens of such hearings over 40 years, he said, but fewer than 10 percent have been in public session.

“I do think the most important message for the public to get is that there’s no decision made yet,” he said. “It’s going to be a fair hearing, and we’re going to try to be sure everything is done in the fairest and most correct way possible.”

Haley said some of the hearing will be in executive — or private — session, as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects educators from giving out certain kinds of information about students.

Dench said students could testify, and in that case it would be private, so there may be a lot of in and out of executive session, he said.

“It’s probably going to be a little bit strange or confusing for people,” he said.

Reiter, who is represented by Gregg Frame, of Taylor, McCormack and Frame, of Portland, requested that the hearing be public, saying he has nothing to hide.

Frame says he is confident Reiter will be returned to his job after the hearing. Frame said he sent Dench a letter Tuesday morning requesting the private portions of the hearing be held in one session and the public part in another session to make it easier for the public.

Haley and Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot conducted an in-house investigation and interviewed about 20 teachers and other high school staff members. Haley subsequently recommended firing Reiter. Haley also reported the allegations against Reiter to the police, as is required by law if a school official believes anything illegal might have occurred.

Haley and Thiboutot will be represented Tuesday by attorney Melissa Hewey, of Drummond Woodsum, of Portland.

The Waterville Police Department conducted a separate investigation and sent its report to the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office.

Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said this week he does not anticipate a decision from the DA’s office until after the dismissal hearing is complete. District Attorney Maeghan Maloney concurred.

“I will wait to announce a decision until after the Nov. 10th hearing,” Maloney said in an email.

Police will testify at the hearing, and a separate police officer will be on hand to serve as a security officer at the hearing, according to Haley.

The public will be prohibited from speaking, as is the case in court proceedings, according to Haley and Dench.

Haley says he does not think one evening will provide enough time to complete the hearing and deliberations, particularly because about 30 witnesses may be called. Dench said he thinks the school board will take the view that it shouldn’t go too late into the night because it would become difficult for people to listen and pay attention and they will get tired.

The Board of Education is made up entirely of women — Chairwoman Sara Sylvester and members Joan Phillips-Sandy, Pamela Trinward, Maryanne Bernier, Susan Reisert, Tiffany LaLiberty and Elizabeth Bickford.

At the board’s regular meeting Tuesday night, members were to have considered going into executive session for “consultations between school unit and its attorney,” according to the agenda.

Haley said earlier Tuesday that in that session, Sylvester was to relay to other board members her communications with Dench about the upcoming hearing.

Dench will tell the public at the beginning of Tuesday’s hearing that Sylvester has asked him to act as the hearing officer to assist the board in the process, answer legal questions and give legal advice to help assure the process is fair. He will introduce the proceeding, explain what it is about and invite the parties to comment, he said. He also will tell people watching that they must not speak up or disrupt the proceedings.

“We’ll be respectful but keep it orderly,” he said.

Dench recalled a public dismissal hearing he was involved in that drew 600 people.

“It was a very interesting scenario,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but we’ll certainly make every effort to make sure everything is done correctly and Mr. Reiter gets a fair hearing.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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