Middle school principal accused of sexual harassment Gender discrimination, retaliation also alleged

CALEDONIA – Members of the Caledonia-Mumford community spoke out at the school district’s board of education meeting Tuesday night following the County News’s reporting that at least three teachers have accused Middle School Principal Paul Estabrooks of engaging in acts of harassment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation since 2016.

Some voiced concerns over the allegations against Estabrooks while others – including current and former district employees – praised him as a “competent, caring principal” and described the environment he’s cultivated at the middle school as “very, very special.”

While Tuesday’s meeting drew a larger than average crowd to the board meeting room – extra chairs had to be wheeled in from nearby offices and, even so, many were forced to stand for the duration of the meeting – most in attendance did not speak.

One attendee who did was Meghan Mietlicki, a 2018 Cal-Mum graduate who said she had concerns about what kind of message the district was sending by failing to address the allegations against Estabrooks.

“I have friends who want to raise their children here and I would like this to be a safe, good school district, but by allowing this situation to continue, we are saying this is OK behavior and that there’s no consequences for actions,” said Mietlicki, who’s studying criminal justice at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “And most importantly, I feel women are being degraded with this whole situation and it just reflects very poorly on our district and I’m disgusted and I don’t like getting involved in politics but I felt like I had to come here today.”

Steve Leupold was of a like mind.

“This appears to have happened on more than one occasion to a female in our district and I think it’s an embarrassment to our community, a real embarrassment and a lot of people as you can see are pretty upset about this,” said Leupold, gesturing to the large number of people in attendance. “And I just want to know if it happens again, is it going to be handled the same way or is more action going to be taken? What’s your cut off point?”

Per the policies of the public forum sections of the district’s board of education meetings, board members did not respond to Leupold or any others who spoke.

Josephine Schalk, who taught at Le Roy, Brighton and Cal-Mum during her nearly 30-year career in education, said she never witnessed Estabrooks engage with students or teachers in an inappropriate manner and said her four years teaching at Cal-Mum were “my best middle school experience.”

The County News has not reported on any allegations that Estabrooks has engaged in any inappropriate conduct with students.

Schalk also took issue with those people who spoke to the County News on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals.

“For people to remain anonymous, to me, is acting cowardly,” she said.

Susan Hayes has worked for Cal-Mum for the past 10 years. For the past six, she’s worked in close proximity to Estabrooks as the middle school secretary. Hayes said this position has given her a front row seat to experience, up close and personal, exactly what goes on within the middle school.

“The fact is that Paul is a competent, caring principal who comes to work each and every day with the intent of making Cal-Mum Middle School... a better place,” said Hayes. “...The way teachers, staff and administrators support each other, the fact that our motto in middle school is that there is no such thing as a bad kid - I have seen amazing turnarounds with students gotten back on the right track. I feel that Cal-Mum Middle School is a very, very special place for students to be able to learn and mature.”

Kathleen Brown, who worked for the district for 23 years before retiring in 2018, suggested the teacher who filed a federal lawsuit against Estabrooks in 2017 did so because she was angry about receiving poor performance reviews.

“Some teachers can’t accept an evaluation that is less than excellent. They fear a case is being made to remove them from the faculty,” said Brown. “...A test may show deficiencies that a student must fill. We expect them to accept this with grace and to study the class material – can’t we ask the same of our teachers?”

If a teacher proves themselves ineffective in the classroom, the reality, said Brown, is that the district may not grant them tenure.

“It takes great effort, time and money to become a teacher and the thought of losing this career is awfully hard to accept,” said Brown, who fears what impact such a lawsuit may have on hiring and tenure decisions in the future. “...Will a school have to grant tenure or fear that a lawsuit accuses someone of harassment? This is not going to put good teachers in the classroom,” she said.

Brown’s brother, the late Tim Anderson, was one of the four Cal-Mum board of education members who voted to approve a $47,500 settlement agreement to resolve the 2017 lawsuit against Estabrooks. Brown herself ran unsuccessfully for Cal-Mum’s board of education this year.

The board of education did not address the allegations against Estabrooks Tuesday night. Neither did Estabrooks or Superintendent Robert Molisani.

Board members Michael Balonek and Jamie Fitch, who were elected to the board in May, after the inappropriate conduct Estabrooks is accused of engaging in is alleged to have occurred, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

As the County News previously reported, the former Cal-Mum teacher who brought the federal lawsuit accused Estabrooks of making inappropriate comments about her body and appearance, treating her differently because of her gender and then giving her poor performance reviews once she failed to respond favorably to his advances.

The teacher also filed two complaints with the New York State Division of Human Rights, which has the authority to investigate claims of gender discrimination in the workplace.

The division investigated the teacher’s claims and concluded “probable cause” existed to believe Estabrooks and the district “had engaged in unlawful discriminatory practices,” court records obtained by the County News show.

Click here to read past coverage of the allegations against Estabrooks.

Cal-Mum ultimately paid out $47,500 to settle the suit. According to the settlement agreement that governed the terms of the payment, a copy of which the district recently provided in response to a freedom of information request, the payment was made in two different transactions. The first, for $41,250, was issued by the district’s insurance carrier. The other, for $6,250, was issued by the district itself. In agreeing to the settlement, the district did not admit any guilt or liability.

Click here to read past coverage about the $47,500 payment and other terms of the settlement agreement.

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