WATERVILLE — About 30 students and parents rallied on Friday afternoon in front of Waterville Senior High School in support Principal Don Reiter, who is on leave after being accused of propositioning a student.

Supporters held signs bearing Reiter’s photo with a backdrop of an American flag, reading “fight for what’s right” and “#FreeReiter,” which has become the social media hashtag for the principal’s supporters.

Shanon Dixon, a mother of Waterville Senior High School graduates, said she helped put the afternoon rally together so that students could have a place to express their support for the principal.

Some students at the 560-student school said Thursday that a walkout was planned for Friday. Plans changed after Superintendent Eric Haley warned there would be consequences for disrupting the school day.

“I had the idea to keep kids from walking out from class,” Dixon said. “This is a better alternative. They can have their voice without getting in trouble.”

Students and some adults gathered at the softball field in front of the high school shortly after school let out Friday. Demonstrators made signs and wrote slogans on a long sheet of paper.

One student with a bullhorn led others in a chant, “Heck no, Don can’t go.”

A couple of students stood by the school parking lot entrance with signs encouraging drivers to honk if they supported Reiter. A few vehicles responded when they drove past.

Reiter was put on paid administrative leave in September. He is accused of asking a female student for sex in August in a closed-door meeting in his office, and Haley has recommended that he be fired.

The Waterville Board of Education this week held dismissal hearings including a public session Tuesday and a seven-hour executive session behind closed doors on Wednesday. The board will meet again Monday night, and Chairwoman Sara Sylvester has said it will not leave without deciding whether to terminate Reiter.

The Waterville Police Department also investigated the allegations and referred the case to the Kennebec County district attorney’s office.

About 125 people attended the hearings this week, some of them teachers from the 40-teacher school, many saying they support Reiter.

But advocates for victims of sexual assault told the Morning Sentinel that such support before a determination has been made, particularly when law requires that much of the student’s information be private, can be misleading and harmful to victims of assault.

“It’s really important to remain respectful of one another,” Cara Courchesne, communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Thursday. “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.”

Students and parents who rallied Friday said they want the school board to return Reiter to his job.

“One accusation should not change how everyone feels about him,” said Rebecca Wickman, a high school junior, who was holding a “#FreeReiter” sign.

“The students feel we can trust him. That’s why we have his back,” Wickman added.

Kelsey Courtois, who was standing next to Wickman, said there has been a negative atmosphere in the school since Reiter was suspended.

“He brings the school together,” she said.

Rebecca Willett, who graduated from Waterville Senior High School last year, said Reiter always had been fair with her, especially when she got into a serious car accident.

Amelia Beringer, said she came to the rally to show her family’s support for the principal. Three of her children are Waterville graduates.

“They all have got faith in the principal, as I do,” Beringer said.

She was also upset that the school board left its executive session Wednesday night without telling the people who attended the hearing that they were adjourning for the night. Many of those who attended the Wednesday hearing were also frustrated by the board’s actions.

School board members have said that Reiter’s quasi-judicial adjudicatory hearing mostly does not include public participation and some of what the board is discussing, particularly information involving students, is protected under federal rules and state privacy law.

Chairwoman Sara Sylvester said Thursday that the board is taking its duties seriously and won’t make a “rush to judgment.”

“These are serious, serious allegations,” she said. “It’s somebody’s life — two people’s lives.”

Bryan Dench, the board’s attorney, said people have to understand that the school board is doing its job properly. “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,” he said Thursday.

Dixon said another rally is planned to be held just before the school board hearing Monday night at George J. Mitchell School.

Rally participants plan to assemble about a half hour before the 5 p.m. hearing, and Reiter supporters will walk hand-in-hand into the building, Dixon said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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