Thousands of people have been invited to the protest for former Branford High School teacher Carolyn Lippolis, set for Dec. 17, hundreds are going but the Branford Board of Education maintains their decision to fire her on Nov. 27 is justified.
Patch has obtained a copy of the 17-page report from the BOE (attached), which features the findings of the three-person panel, two of which made the recommendation to fire the tenured Branford High School Social Studies teacher, Lippolis; one panel member dissented. The BOE voted unanimously to let the teacher go after receipt of the report, which included recounts of the knife incident that occured on Jan. 12, 2012, from three unnamed students, a special education paraprofessional Sandra Dane, and BHS Principal Lee Panagoulias.
The report, compiled by the hearing panel of Laurie G. Cain, Esq., John M. Romanow, Esq., and Martin A. Gould, Esq., states, “The knife incident was the latest in a pattern of poor decision-making that has impacted students and interfered with the operation of the school. The teacher has demonstrated her unprofessional decision-making over many years.”
Still maintaining no comment to Patch, Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez stated in the report: “… if it was not the knife, it was another error or demonstration of gross misjudgment, I would have moved to terminate her.”
The report indicates that Lippolis, a full-time Branford teacher since 2001 has had issues with the administration since the 2002-2003 school year. “Since that time,” the report indicates, “she has received at least ten documented notices that her professional judgment did not meet acceptable standards and could subject her to discipline up to and including termination.”
However, based on the knife incident alone, the panel did not find that particular instance, grounds for termination. “Standing alone, the January 12 incident, which unprofessional and potentially dangerous and worthy of serious discipline, was insufficient for a recommendation of termination. The administration admits that the use of a knife as a prop was not determinative.”
However, the panel felt that the knife incident was the latest in a “pattern of poor decision-making.”
Instances of “poor judgment” used to support the majority of the panel's recommendation to fire Lippolis included: arriving late to class, resulting in students being left with inadequate supervision; providing students with nicknames, which resulted in ridicule from peers; writing on students' hands; showing an R-rated movie in study hall; failing to leave appropriate lesson plans for substitute teachers; submitting grades at least five days late, causing delay in issuing report cards for entire school; bringing her child to school; and leaving her duties unsupervised and class unattended.
The report states that Lippolis was placed on an improvement plan for the 2007-2008 school year, intensely supervised, taken off the plan and placed back on the plan during the 2008-2009 year.
While panel members Cain and Romanow felt Lippolis should be terminated, panel member Gould dissented. Based on the testimony from Dane, indicating that the knife, a kitchen item, 13-inches with an 8-inch blade, 1.5-inches across, was used as a prop, Gould said he found nothing “ominous” about Lippolis having the item in her class. Gould wrote: “Knives and other sharp and potentially dangerous objects are commonplace in the school.”
Gould added that while the students reported they felt threatened, he found the report that those same students were bragging about getting Lippolis fired indicated that parts of their stories were fabricated.
The outcome, Gould wrote: “is a sad commentary on the relationship of the Administration to its teachers that three students can orchestrate the firing of a teacher based upon statements of questionable veracity dealing with an obviously overblown incident.”
Lippolis maintains that she used the knife to show students the concept of branding as it relates to the Indian Caste system in her eighth-period social studies class. The use of the knife was not in her lesson plan, the report indicates, but used as a teachable moment. Dane maintains that Lippolis often used props for demonstration in class.
The report states that the concept of branding was not part of Lippolis’ lesson on the Hindu Caste system but rather was brought up when a student inquired about it. She used the knife to demonstrate branding in response to the student’s question, the report indicates.
The knife in discussion was brought into Lippolis’ class by a student from another area of the school and was kept there for several months according to the report. Knives are kept in four areas of the school the report states. Lippolis said the knife was kept in a locked safe in her closet, though the administration said it was found in an unlocked filed cabinet behind the teacher’s whiteboard, which was capable of being locked. At the time of finding the knife, it was dirty and not serrated, the report said.
Dane indicated that Lippolis held the knife about three inches from her body pointing up about two-feet in front of her for proximally two minutes. Student 1’s report indicated that Lippolis “threatened the class with a knife… she screamed and yelled at us for about 10 minutes or so…” The student went on to say that the teacher was laughing and hit the students’ desk with the knife.” This student added that Lippolis used the knife to quiet a student but appeared to be joking. This student also indicated that Dane said the incident should have never happened and she was sorry that it did. Dane reported that she did not hear anything threatening from Lippolis.
Patch encourages readers to read the full panel report attached before commenting.