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Central Falls Principal Takes School District to Court

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A Central Falls principal who has been on administrative leave all year is taking the school district to court in an effort to get her job back.

Elizabeth Legault started out the year as co-principal at the Calcutt Middle School but was put on administrative leave in October 2010. She has been on leave since then, all the while collecting her full $105,500 salary.

It wasn’t until earlier this month, on May 5, that the school district issued her a formal reprimand letter. Now, since she wasn’t put on suspension or received another more serious punishment, Legault is wondering why she is not being allowed to return to work, according to her attorney, Jeff Sowa. Since the district has not provided a reason, Sowa has filed an injunction in Providence County Superior Court requiring that the district let her back into Calcutt Middle School.

Sowa declined to provide a copy of the reprimand letter or discuss what misconduct it cited, but he questioned why it had taken the district so long to conduct an investigation in Legault’s misconduct only to issue a reprimand. “Certainly for October through May to conduct a purported investigation is an extraordinarily long period of time,” Sowa said. “If it was serious or had any merit whatsoever … a more serious penalty would have been imposed.”

In the letter notifying Legault she had been put on leave, Superintendent Frances Gallo cited “charges of misfeasance or malfeasance.”

“It’s cute words that people use for trumped up charges,” Sowa countered.

Former coworker: principal was targeted for speaking out

One former guidance counselor at the school told GoLocalProv that he believes Legault was targeted, along with other employees, because she criticized district policies—especially a new approach to discipline known as restorative practices.

“As a result, they were taken out back and shot. That’s basically the way it is—there is no freedom of speech in that district,” said George McLaughlin, who left Central Falls last year after he was transferred to a classroom position. “This is retribution for Miss Legault speaking her mind.”

McLaughlin now runs the Guidance Department at Tolman High School but says he stays in close contact with teachers in Central Falls. “It’s not just Liz Legault. There are people who are frightened and think that if they say anything, even report problems … they will get punished for it,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Gallo was not able to respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

After GoLocalProv first reported that Legault was one of three administrators not working and still collecting a paycheck, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist issued a statement saying the district was limited in what it could say about matters that involve litigation. “Please bear in mind that when allegations involve personnel matters or legal issues, neither the district nor RIDE can readily share information with the media or the public,” Gist said.

Teacher: ‘We’ve been riffling through administrators’

Several teachers and other coworkers told GoLocalProv they were not familiar with the exact circumstances surrounding Legault’s departure, but they praised her leadership.

“The respect factor is huge and that goes from the cafeteria staff to the custodians to the students to the parents,” said Marc Senerchia, a Social Studies teacher at the middle school.

For several years, Legault was principal at Calcutt. Last year, she was principal at Central Falls High School only to be returned to Calcutt at the start of this year. Since her initial tenure at Calcutt, there has been no consistency in the leadership, according to Senerchia. “We’ve been riffling through administrators. No one knows what their role is,” Senerchia said. “When Liz was there we had consistency, structure, rules, and routine, which enhance students’ learning and community relationships.”

The same went for the high school when she was there, according to Justin Drzal, a special education teacher at Central Falls High. “When she’s there, you know who’s in charge. There’s definitely a sense of leadership,” Drzal said. “Miss Legault seemed like she had a vision and she knew where the school was going. … I’m still unsure of where the school is going now.”

Connie Dube, the head of the local union for non-certified staff, said Legault is popular among students and teachers. Dube said she hopes Legault is able to return to the district. “She’s a great teacher. She’s a great principal. She has great rapport with all the students,” Dube said. “She’s done a lot for the community of Central Falls.”

Legault’s injunction is scheduled to be heard in Providence County Superior Court today.

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