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Massena guidance counselor waiting for word on harassment charges

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MASSENA - A Massena High School guidance counselor says she’s still waiting for some word on the status of an investigation into charges of harassment her union had filed earlier this year.

“I did exactly what you told me to do, I put it in writing. It’s been two months,” Erin Covell told board of education members at their meeting last week.

Ms. Covell had originally appeared before the board during their June session, also wondering about the status of the investigation.

She told board members in June that a letter had been sent to them by attorney Phillip G. Steck, a Syracuse-based attorney representing the Massena Federation of Teachers, which recounted several instances of harassment.

“There are over 29 instances involving over 40 people,” Ms. Covell said last week.

She had told board members in June and reiterated last week that their policy required a prompt and thorough review of the complaints, none of which had yet been addressed.

The policy adopted by the board of education reads, “Any employee who believes that he/she has been subjected to ... harassment shall report all incidents of such conduct to the district’s designated complaint officer through informal and/or formal complaint procedures developed by the district. In the event that the complaint officer is the offender, the complainant shall report his/her complaint to the next level of supervisory authority.”

Once the complaint is received, “the district will conduct a thorough investigation of the charges. However, if the district has knowledge of or has reason to know of any alleged ... harassment, the district is obligated, even in the absence of a complaint, to investigate such conduct promptly and thoroughly. Based upon the results of the district’s investigation, immediate corrective action will be taken, up to and including termination of the offender’s employment in accordance with contractual and legal guidelines,” according to the policy.

Ms. Covell said she was simply looking for answers to the complaints.

“I know you think there are a group of people trying to stir the pot,” she noted, but she said that wasn’t the case.

“We have some wonderful faculty. The people enjoy working with the students,” she said. “The perception is it’s us against them. I don’t feel that way.”

She had asked board members in June what the investigation process would look like, who would conduct the investigation and how individuals would be contacted. But she received no response from board members then.

In her appearance last week, Ms. Covell said she was wondering about the status of the investigation, but this time she received a response.

“I don’t know,” said John R. Boyce, who took over as president of the board in July. “I’ll find out. The board has changed since that meeting.”

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