BUHS principal's firing upheld after hearing

Victim frustrated with the process but thanks WSESD board for sticking by 2022 decision to fire Steve Perrin

BRATTLEBORO — The Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) Board of Directors has upheld its decision to fire former Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) Principal Steven Perrin following a two-week hearing that ended Jan. 30.

The hearing took place in executive session, with the results announced publicly at the board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

“Pursuant to a hearing, the board has affirmed the decision to dismiss Mr. Perrin as BUHS principal,” WSESD board Chair Kelly Young said. She took no questions, and there was no further conversation.

The board fired Perrin on Nov. 8 in a unanimous vote.

Perrin had not been on the job since before spring break in 2022. The day school resumed, April 25, Young communicated via memo that Superintendent Mark Speno had placed Perrin on a paid leave of absence. Perrin continued to collect his $120,000 annual salary until being fired.

Cassie Damkoehler has served as principal since Perrin's firing.

In October 2022, The Commons broke the story of “Jane Doe,” who alleges that when she was a sophomore at BUHS in 2010, Perrin started to make unwanted and inappropriate sexual and romantic advances toward her and found other ways to make her life difficult, including trying to prevent her from graduating [“Former BUHS student says principal took 'sexual and romantic' interest in her,” News, Oct. 5, 2022].

Friends and classmates have corroborated the former student's story, having witnessed Perrin's treatment of her.

Doe has also said that she has reason to believe the former principal did not report her rape by a fellow student to the authorities, as he was mandated to do as an educator.

She filed reports with the Brattleboro Police Department and attorney Aimee Goddard of Buehler & Annis, PLC of Brattleboro, who was hired by the WSESD board in January 2022 to investigate myriad reports of sexual abuse at the school over the years.

No timeline or further information has been forthcoming regarding that investigation despite many queries from community members. But at the Feb. 28 meeting, Young told WSESD board student representative Ben Berg that if he put his questions about what is going on, the process, and next steps in writing, she will endeavor to offer a report on March 14.

Justice Law Collaborative, LLC (JLC), of North Easton, Massachusetts, which represents several survivors, has put the school district on notice of potential legal action regarding several former teachers alleged to be abusers.

JLC associate attorney Martha Carol represented Doe at the hearing. The organization has received multiple reports of abuse from both male and female students dating from the 1970s on.

The Commons has learned that during the hearing, another witness also came forward, testifying that Perrin did not report another case of sexual assault just a couple of years ago and is alleged to have obstructed someone else reporting the assault by pressuring that person.

Perrin, who lives in New Hampshire, worked at BUHS since 1995. Prior to becoming principal, he served four years as assistant principal. He taught chemistry and biology at the school prior to becoming an administrator.

He also taught high school science for several years in Camden, New York, before moving to the Brattleboro area. He has retained his administrator's and teacher's licenses from the Vermont Agency of Education. Both expire in 2024.

After being fired, Perrin exercised his right to an appeal, and the WSESD board heard held the hearing and heard testimony over two weeks from about a dozen witnesses, ending Monday, Jan. 30.

The hearing, according to statute, was held in executive session. Attorney Sean Toohey of Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky, P.C., the district's legal team, moderated the proceedings.

From a survivor, appreciation - and frustration

Jane Doe spoke again with The Commons after the board upheld its decision Tuesday, expressing thanks as well as frustration with the process.

While she noted that perpetrators past and present should be held primarily accountable for the culture of abuse throughout the school district, she also believes “the time has come for a transparent look at the past and how administrators and the board can help create a safe environment moving forward.”

“I appreciate the school board's action to uphold their decision to fire former Principal Perrin after reviewing his misconduct,” Doe said. “I am relieved that the board has reaffirmed that he engaged in conduct that is not appropriate for a school leader or an individual working with minors.

“The process of coming forward to speak about the harassment I experienced at BUHS has been incredibly stressful and opaque. Due to the lack of transparency, the community, myself, and other survivors have been left in the dark as WSESD leadership continues to cobble together a plan behind closed doors.

“This secrecy and lack of transparency does nothing but protect abusers, confuse survivors, and allow perpetrators - those we know about and those still in the shadows - to act with impunity.

“It has been nearly a year since I initially reported former Principal Perrin for his inappropriate and horrific behavior. It took over seven months from my report to terminate him while whispers flew around the community and anxieties grew.

“My opportunity to tell my own story to the board only came when former Principal Perrin attempted to appeal his firing, leading to weeks of private hearings marked by hours of painful witness testimony and cross-examination that the community deserves to know about. We are still waiting for the district's [sexual abuse] investigation report, and every day that passes is another day that my trust in the body meant to keep our kids safe is eroded.

“The school board's inaction is causing harm to survivors. In order to address the harm that has already been done, to make sure it does not happen again, and to minimize any further harm by the school system's response, sharing information with the people who are directly impacted and the community-at-large is vital. In any way I can, I will continue to advocate for the safety of our community and for those survivors who have yet to come forward.

“And to all the Jane and John Does out there: thank you,” Doe said. “Your bravery inspires me every day and has kept me hanging on through the darkest days of this investigation. I know we cannot change our past but together, I know we will change our future.”

School must 'build safe opportunities,' lawyer says

Carol, speaking on behalf of Justice Law Collaborative, spoke after she attended the Feb. 28 board meeting.

“We are encouraged that the WSESU school board upheld their decision to terminate Mr. Perrin for his inappropriate conduct toward students,” she said.

“BUHS and the school district must build safe opportunities for survivors and witnesses to report concerns that maximize their choice and safety. Survivors need the opportunity to receive resources for healing and care.”

She said the board “must prioritize accountability and safety over avoiding liability.”

“Over a year and a half after the district promised investigation into the history of sexual harassment and abuse of school children, the board has failed to release the investigative report or take action to address survivors' harm,” Carol continued.

“Timely doing so and providing survivors necessary reparations for the harms they have suffered is vital to give them the necessary space to heal and end these systemic problems,” she said.

It is not known whether Perrin will appeal the local board's decision to Superior Court, as neither he nor his lawyer, Theodore C. Kramer, responded to queries from The Commons by press time.

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