WATERVILLE — Waterville Senior High School Principal Don Reiter will learn Monday night whether he will be fired or return to his job after hours of mostly private testimony at this week’s hearing.

“There will be a decision Monday night,” said Sara Sylvester, chairwoman of the Waterville Board of Education. “We won’t be leaving without a decision.”

The board is considering a recommendation from Superintendent Eric Haley that Reiter be dismissed for inappropriate conduct with a student based on an allegation that Reiter asked the student for sex.

The board of seven women met in executive session Tuesday night for about four hours, and again Tuesday in a seven-hour-long mostly private hearing that has brought criticism from those who attended as spectators.

The board reviewed evidence and heard testimony from more than a dozen witnesses over two days and now is in the deliberation stage. Sylvester said Thursday that she expects the deliberations Monday to take about an hour — again in executive session — and the board will make a decision in public session.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at George J. Mitchell School. “I see it as being a very short executive session,” Sylvester said.

Bryan Dench, the board’s attorney and official hearing officer for the dismissal hearing, will put some facts together about the case, in writing, and give them to the board, according to Sylvester.

“These are serious, serious allegations,” she said. “It’s somebody’s life — two people’s lives — so we need to look at it over the weekend and make sure we are making the right decision.

“It’s not a rush to judgment. None of this is taken lightly and it has been very tough on the board. It’s not an easy thing to do at all,” she said.

‘DOING THEIR JOB’

Many of those who attended the hearing Wednesday — the second day of the proceedings — appeared to be Reiter supporters who said they were angry that most of the hearing was held in executive session, saying they understood it was to be mostly public.

They also were frustrated that they had to wait for hours in the school gymnasium as the board was in executive session in the school library and no one kept them apprised of what was happening or when they might hear some testimony in open session.

Other than hearing opening statements by attorneys on Tuesday and testimony by three character witnesses for Reiter on Wednesday, the public was privy to no other discussions.

Many also said they were angry that school board members left executive session at the end of the night Wednesday and went home rather than return to the gymnasium and let people know they were adjourning for the night.

But Dench explained Thursday that, according to the process for such hearings, when the board is deliberating in executive session, it has no obligation to come back to open session to explain what it is doing.

“The board is doing this according to the law and acting properly and has no reason to come out into public session to report to anybody about what they’re doing,” he said. “That’s just not the way the process works. For the board to do their jobs properly and responsibly and to protect the rights of everyone involved is a difficult task and it takes time. The board is doing that. They’re being very conscientious and taking the time to do things correctly.”

The board is conducting a quasi-judicial, adjudicatory hearing, and some parts of it are in open session; but beyond that, it is not a participatory process, Dench said.

“We understand that can lead to some confusion or frustration, but the board is doing its job deliberately and conscientiously, and that takes time,” he said. “It’s a process that to an outsider can be very perplexing or frustrating, and nobody likes that, but this is the way it has to be done.”

Federal right to privacy rules and state law mandate that no student records or information derived from records be disclosed publicly in any manner that would identify a student, and that is why much of the hearing has been in private session, Dench said. He said Reiter and his attorney, Gregg Frame, agreed that the parts of the hearing that were held in executive session should have been, Dench said.

Frame said Thursday that he would have preferred that more witnesses be allowed to testify in open session. He added that the school’s attorney, Melissa Hewey, gave plenty of details about the case in opening statements, yet the board decided to hear closing statements in closed session. He had asked they be done in open session.

He said that if the board makes an “adverse decision” for Reiter, he has the right to appeal the decision to Superior Court, and the filing would include transcripts from the dismissal hearing with the identity of the student redacted. He said the public also would learn what the school board knew when it made its decision.

He said 15 to 20 witnesses testified at Reiter’s hearing.

“I don’t think that the case was proved, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

PLANNED PROTEST

Waterville students announced Thursday morning on Facebook that they are planning a school walkout after attendance is taken Friday morning at the high school. The Morning Sentinel also received several phone calls about the planned protest.

Haley on Thursday morning called a meeting of the student body and faculty in response to the plans and told students that they have the right to demonstrate as long as it does not interfere with the school mission, which is to educate students. He also explained that there would be consequences if such disruptions occurred.

He said more than 500 students and faculty and staff members attended the meeting in Trask Auditorium at the high school.

“We talked about other things — about how we treat each other, about civility and it’s OK to disagree with people,” Haley said. “They were very receptive, very civil, very polite.”

Haley said he understands that people want more information about the case and are frustrated that much of the hearing was in closed session, but a lot of the information is, by law, confidential.

The hearing process is tough, he said.

“As I told the student body, there are only about 14 people that know all the facts — seven board members, lawyers and myself,” he said. “Nobody other than those 14 people know the real facts and only seven of them are trying to make a decision based on the facts.”

He noted that he is not in charge of running the hearing and has no authority to change the way it is conducted.

“I understand the frustration, but I don’t control the show and the board doesn’t really control the show. It’s a very serious conclusion that they have to make.”

When Haley left Mitchell School after Wednesday’s night session, a woman yelled at him, asking if he could sleep at night.

Reiter, however, got a different reception as he passed through the crowd, which lined the walls of the corridor. A woman shouted, “We’re behind you, Don!” and then the crowd chanted, “Don, Don, Don!”

Earlier in the evening, when the board emerged from private session and went into public session, most people in the crowd, which included teachers and staff members from the high school, stood and clapped for him and continued clapping.

THE MESSAGE

Without a decision from the board in Reiter’s case, people should be aware of the message such that a display of support such as the one for the principal sends to victims of abuse, Cara Courchesne, communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Thursday.

Even if the board finds there is no merit to the allegations, the response of the crowd can have a harmful effect on those around them, Courchesne said.

“It’s really important to remain respectful of one another,” she said. “It’s really easy to say something inadvertent and say something not supportive of survivors. I don’t think people do it intentionally; I think just being aware of that and how people conduct themselves is probably the best path forward.”

She said a person who solicits a student could be an upstanding pillar of the community — someone who does not fit the monster mold that people believe would do something like that — and it is a shock, she said.

“It can be very difficult because it shakes their perception of what they think is true,” she said.

Some people at the hearing Wednesday night also objected to the presence of uniformed police officers outside the school.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said Thursday that officers from the detective division, in plain clothes, were at the hearing because they were involved in the case and were called to testify. Uniformed officers were outside the building afterward because emotions can run high and heated debate can occur at public hearings and police want to make there are no problems.

“There are just times we want to make sure folks are able to express themselves without any other conflicts and can come and go without any other issues,” he said.

Meanwhile, high school mathematics teacher Joyce Blakney, who also is president of the Waterville Teachers Association, said Thursday that many teachers are worried about being alone with a student in light of the allegations against Reiter. Teachers who arrive early for school or stay late to tutor or advise students are particularly concerned, she said.

“There’s a discomfort level now that a lot of us are feeling,” Blakney said.

She said that until Haley called the meeting of students and staff Thursday, the staff did not talk about the case with students except to answer questions.

After the meeting, however, students wanted to know more, according to Blakney.

She said she got mixed reactions from students about Haley’s discussion about student demonstrations. Some felt what he said was good, while others thought he was trying to squelch their right to protest, she said.

Blakney, who stayed at the hearing until the end Wednesday, said it would have been better if someone had come into the gymnasium to announce what was happening to all the people who came and sat for hours, waiting.

“As somebody put it to me, they felt disrespected,” she said.

Sylvester, the school board chairwoman, said board members are focusing on the difficult case. They heard a lot of testimony and they need to take a step back, process it and make sure that when they go to vote, they make the right decision.

“It’s not fun,” she said. “It’s not easy.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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