Teachers at an online charter school are expressing concerns about the hiring of a principal who resigned last year as principal of Brunswick Junior High School amid allegations he harassed and verbally abused female employees.

Walter Wallace was named the principal at Maine Connections Academy on Friday, according to an email that went out to staff that day and was shared with the Press Herald.

Walter Wallace Times Record file photo

The Times Record reported that Wallace resigned from his job in Brunswick in March amid allegations he harassed and bullied female staff for years and shortly after a law firm finished an investigation into his conduct.

On Wednesday, 19 teachers at Maine Connections Academy sent a letter to the school board asking to be heard regarding concerns about Wallace’s hiring and the process by which he was selected. Wallace could not be reached for comment.

“As the Governing Board for Maine Connections Academy, we have a responsibility to our students and families to provide them with the best education possible,” Amy Linscott, chair of the Maine Connections Academy Governing Board, said in an email. “Much thought and many conversations contributed to the decision to hire Mr. Wallace.”

Linscott said the board is aware of teacher concerns and received the letter and a request to meet with the board. Individual members of the board will be meeting with small groups of teachers at the school Monday to answer questions, she said.

The school is one of two virtual schools in Maine and one of nine charter schools, which are public schools operating outside of school districts and whose students choose to attend school there. It encompasses grades 7-12 and enrolled 431 students in 2018-19.

“The circumstances under which Mr. Wallace resigned from his previous position as principal of Brunswick Junior High School has already negatively impacted the culture and climate of Maine Connections Academy school,” the letter from teachers reads.

One of the 19 teachers who signed the letter, when reached Wednesday, declined to comment out of concern it would jeopardize their job. There is no teacher’s union at the school.

The letter goes on to say publicity around Wallace’s hiring would likely have a negative impact on enrollment numbers and the school’s reputation and that board member William Thompson, who is also listed as a member of the Brunswick school board, should have recused himself from the hiring committee.

The letter also says faculty were not consulted in the hiring process and the only interest represented was that of Pearson PLC, the for-profit parent company contracted to provide the online curriculum for the school.

Staff met with Wallace on Monday, which “left us with more concerns than resolutions about the allegations and the direction we are headed as a school,” the letter said.

“The lack of stakeholder participation in conjunction with allegations of Mr. Wallace’s harassing, bullying and vindictive behavior is of great concern to the MCA teachers, spouses, families and inevitably, public opinion,” it said.

According to the email sent to staff Friday by Dean of Students and Interim Principal Lauren Thompson, Wallace was selected after an “in-depth process.”

There were 23 external and four internal applications for the principal’s job. After several rounds of interviews were conducted with board members, MCA and Pearson staff, a committee recommended Wallace to the full board for consideration.

“After careful consideration the board voted to extend an offer to Mr. Walter Wallace,” the email said. “Late today, he accepted the position and will be joining us starting Monday, September 30, 2019.”

Maine Connections Academy, the state’s first online charter school and one of just two virtual schools in Maine, opened in the 2014-15 school year. The school received a five-year charter renewal last November after evaluation by the Maine Charter School Commission.

Both virtual schools have additional oversights built into their charters due in part to the poor outcomes of virtual schools in other states and questions about the effectiveness of online learning and how much local control would be possible.

Teachers at Maine Connections Academy split their time teaching out of a school building in Scarborough and working from home.

Wallace was named the 2015 Principal of the Year by the Maine Principals’ Association.

That year, he was involved in a federal lawsuit by a former student and the Maine Human Rights Commission that accused the school department of failing to adequately protect the student from persistent bullying and discrimination, including sexual assault.

A separate charge against Wallace, which claimed that he acted “with actual malice and reckless indifference” to the rights of the child and his mother, was eventually dropped, and the district settled the case for $125,000.

In March, the Times Record reported Wallace resigned after 15 years in the Brunswick school district with plans to pursue a superintendent position.

Shortly after, the paper reported that 11 different teachers in the district had accused Wallace of bullying and emotional and verbal abuse toward female staff. A lawyer hired by the district concluded that there was not enough evidence to support a finding that Wallace violated the school board’s harassment policy. Wallace told the Times Record the complaints were “gross exaggerations.”

The results of the investigation were not made public, but in a letter to the teachers Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said Wallace’s conduct did not meet the school board’s definition of harassment.

“Nonetheless, I take seriously the allegations that an administrator lost his temper. While I am not able to discuss personnel matters, appropriate steps are being taken to address the concerns that have been raised,” Perzanoski wrote.

Linscott said Wednesday the board is aware of articles about the allegations against Wallace and they were discussed with him during the interview process.

“We are also aware of Mr. Wallace’s background as a quality educator,” she said. “We have complete confidence in his ability to lead the school with integrity and accountability.”

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