January 17, 2017
MANCHESTER — A local charter school, whose principal is on leave while the state investigates allegations of sexual misconduct against him, agreed to a settlement in August with two teachers who accused him of unfair labor practices in connection with a failed attempt to unionize.
Odyssey Community School teacher Stephen Gustafson and former teacher Alyson Montgomery filed a complaint with the state Board of Labor Relations, which the school agreed to settle two weeks later, on Aug. 26.
They charged that Principal Christopher Bugbee and the school treated the teachers unfairly after they led an effort for Odyssey teachers to join the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.
According to the settlement, the school agreed to reverse numerous decisions made by Bugbee, and pay Montgomery $27,500.
State investigation pending
The state Education Department in October began investigating Bugbee in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct by one current and five former teachers.
The teachers, who are seeking revocation of Bugbee’s administrative certification, signed 33 pages of sworn affidavits in July describing Bugbee’s repeated sexual harassment, encouraging teachers to drink liquor, misuse of power, and discrimination, among other charges.
Abbe Smith, the department’s spokeswoman, said last week the department is investigating the teachers’ claims and no timeline has been set for a decision.
Bugbee was placed on leave in September after school officials said they learned about the allegations. He returned weeks later when a lawyer, hired by Odyssey’s Board of Trustees, said he found “no evidence” Bugbee engaged in sexual harassment in or out of school.
Bugbee was put back on leave in October after news reports about the allegations.
“The publicity and parent concern regarding the allegations against Principal Bugbee have made it impossible for him to effectively run Odyssey School,” Odyssey Board of Trustees President Elizabeth Mix wrote in a letter to parents.
The Journal Inquirer obtained the complaints filed with the Labor Board from CEA and the settlement documents from Odyssey through a freedom-of-information request.
Montgomery and Gustafson had led the unsuccessful effort to have Odyssey teachers join the CEA. While the union wasn’t approved, they said Bugbee retaliated against them; Montgomery was fired and Gustafson received poor performance reviews, discipline, and altered teaching assignments, the complaints say.
The CEA helped the teachers submit the complaints to the Labor Board.
According to the complaints, Bugbee accused Montgomery during a meeting of inappropriately handling “confidential” documents containing the salaries of all Odyssey teachers.
Montgomery said in an affidavit that she found the documents on a shared computer. She admitted discussing the disproportionate wages with her colleagues but said she never distributed them.
She was advised not to return to work and later found out through a letter sent to parents that she was no longer employed at the school, the document says.
Montgomery wrote that she did not receive a formal notice explaining the status of her employment and was never granted a chance to appeal.
“I feel compelled to speak out, to do my part to ensure that no teacher is ever subjected to the kind of illegal, discriminatory, and hostile environment which I faced and continue to face,” she wrote.
In their complaints, the teachers say they had never been disciplined prior to their efforts to organize a union.
Two weeks after the complaint was filed, it was settled. Under the agreement, signed by Odyssey Executive Director Elaine Stancliffe and the two teachers:
• Montgomery agreed to resign, while Odyssey paid her $27,500 and agreed to pay her insurance premiums through Feb. 28, unless she obtained other employment before then.
• Odyssey agreed not to contest Montgomery’s claim for unemployment compensation and to provide her with a positive letter of reference.
• The settlement is not an acknowledgement of inappropriate action by either the school or the teachers.
• Gustafson’s teaching assignments and summative evaluations were improved, and Bugbee is not allowed to conduct his formal evaluations.
CEA seeking documents
The CEA had sought additional information regarding allegations made by teachers. In September, Odyssey officials provided six of 22 items the CEA requested, saying the remaining details were not available in the school system’s database. CEA would have to pay $5,000 for an outside contractor to retrieve electronic records that are more than 10 years old, the school said.
In response, CEA filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission asking whether Odyssey’s response was in compliance with state law.
The case is pending, CEA officials said.
Adrienne DeLucca, a CEA lawyer, wrote in a statement: “Odyssey has acknowledged that under current law they may not charge us for the emails which we are still waiting to receive.”
While Bugbee’s suspension continues, Annie Busby, former assistant principal, has assumed his role as principal.
Bugbee began at Odyssey in 2000 as a language arts teacher before becoming the school’s assistant principal in 2008. He was promoted to lead principal during the 2011-12 school year following an unexpected departure, according to an affidavit.
Odyssey has about 324 students in kindergarten to eighth grade from as many as 15 towns, the school says on its website. It is one of the state’s first charter schools; charter schools are licensed and funded by the state and operate outside of local boards of education.
CEA has been critical of charter schools, saying they lack oversight.