CUMBERLAND – Kelly Dwyer, the veteran teacher who was fired from North Cumberland Middle School nearly a month ago, agreed last week to resign from her position in exchange for foregoing any legal challenges.
The School Committee agreed at the June 15 meeting to rescind the prior suspension and dismissal of Dwyer.
The Breeze originally reported on the decision by the school board to fire Dwyer over a series of issues with the teacher over the past year, including late-night social media confrontations with parents and conflict with students and fellow teachers.
Dwyer acknowledged that at one point she signed a statement that she’d been unprofessional in confronting a fellow teacher after that teacher criticized the school’s health curriculum over political and gender issues.
Dwyer was also reportedly in hot water for her interactions with a student she said had repeatedly shamed fellow students. She said she was only ever trying to protect her students, but she acknowledged for the previous story that she took things too far in being overly aggressive. She blamed it on a depression medication that she was no longer on.
Supt. Philip Thornton previously rejected the notion offered by Dwyer that NCMS covers up complaints from LGBTQIA + students in part to protect its 5-star rating, saying the School Department openly welcomes all such students and will continue to do so.
The response during and after Dwyer’s firing late last month was mixed, with many students and families saying she was one of, if not the, best teacher they’d ever dealt with, and others saying she deserved to be fired. Some residents shared screenshots purporting to be from her angry conversations with parents and other residents over Facebook messenger, but The Breeze was unable to find any parents who would speak about those interactions.
Dwyer’s May 31 hearing before the School Committee where the board decided to fire her was originally supposed to be open to the public at her request, and supporters attended that meeting thinking that it would be open. After The Breeze confirmed with school officials that it was Dwyer who asked that the hearing be closed, preventing many of the facts of the matter from being made public, she was asked by The Breeze on June 4 why that was. She responded that she did so at the advice of her attorney.
“I wanted it open and they talked me out of it,” she said.
Supt. Phil Thornton said on Tuesday that school officials cannot comment on any specific personnel matter, but can confirm that the School Committee voted unanimously on May 31 to terminate the employment of a teacher.
“This was the first step in what is typically a very long legal process that can involve multiple appeal hearings, testimony by numerous witnesses, devotion of time and energy by School Department staff, and significant outlay on legal fees,” he said. “After communications between the teacher’s attorney and the committee’s attorney, the committee voted (on June 15) to accept this teacher’s irrevocable resignation in exchange for fully and finally ending any and all potential legal processes concerning this teacher’s employment.
“By agreeing to accept the teacher’s resignation in exchange for the teacher and the Committee releasing any and all claims against each other, including the teacher’s statutory right of appeal of the committee’s termination decision, we have ended what would otherwise have been a long process, ”He added. “This means that the school’s leadership team will no longer have to devote countless hours to a legal process involving one former staff member, and can instead focus on doing the important work of educating Cumberland’s more than 4,900 students. It means that other members of our school community, including other teachers and administrators, parents, and even students, do not have to testify or be involved with this issue any longer. We can move on to do the work we love, educating our students. ”
Dwyer said in a statement this week that she resigned her position as a 6th-grade science teacher instead of pursuing further legal action to win her job back because after the way she was treated “as an employee, parent, community member and human being by the Cumberland School Department, I in no way wanted to work for them or be a representative of them any longer. ”
“I shared the concerns I have about the School Department with the Cumberland School Committee and also offered to tell them what really happened that led to my resignation,” she said. “It is now up to the Cumberland School Committee to follow up on the concerns that have been shared with them and work in the best interests of the students and families of the Cumberland School Department, whom they were elected to serve.”
During a time when people are reluctant to go into education, said Dwyer, “it is unfortunate the students of the Cumberland School Department lost a teacher who truly loved her job and cared about her students. I hope students will remember that someone cared enough about them to be willing to lose their job to do what was right for them, and that they were and are incredibly important to me as people, not just students. They truly made a difference in my life and I hope I made a difference in their lives. I look forward to moving forward and pursuing new opportunities in the future. ”
Some school board members have told The Breeze they believe there are some culture issues at NCMS, saying that the two ideas that a school has issues needing to be resolved and that a staff member acted inappropriately can both be true.