By Lisa Loomis and Lisa Scagliotti

The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will hire an investigator to look into allegations regarding Superintendent Brigid Nease's handling of complaints involving racial discrimination, according to the board chair on Monday.

In a Monday morning email, board chair Caitlin Hollister of Waterbury said the board considers statements alleging misconduct to be a serious matter that will be taken up at the board's June 10 meeting.

"I will recommend that the board hire an independent investigator to conduct an investigation of the matter. We owe it to all of our employees, including the superintendent, to engage in due diligence when there is an allegation of misconduct against them. We may not assume guilt without a careful and thorough review of all the facts," Hollister wrote in a message that went to school board members, the district’s administrative team and local news media.


"If the allegations are substantiated by the investigator, the board will take appropriate disciplinary action. The board is grateful that community members are comfortable bringing concerns to it," she continued.

The board is due to take up Nease's performance review and contract renewal at its June 10 meeting. According to Hollister, it has received “close to 100” messages from community members weighing in on whether the district should offer Nease a new contract.

“They were generally more negative than positive, and they don't fall evenly among the towns. There are much more from The Valley towns, still under a dozen from Waterbury and Duxbury combined,” Hollister said of the email correspondence from the public.

The board has planned a meeting mainly in executive session to address the matter.

The superintendent is in the fourth year of a five-year commitment, ending mid-2021. Nease has said she would prefer a new contract for just two more years which would have her in place until summer 2023. Nease has been with the school district since 2009.


At least one allegation that Hollister referenced was brought to light over the weekend as local residents posted comments on social media and sent messages to the school board regarding Nease’s contract renewal. A post shared on Facebook signed by parents of a middle school student alleged that Nease didn’t appropriately handle a complaint several years ago involving harassment of their child who is a person of color. The writer said they didn’t feel their child was safe in school.

Also on Sunday at a rally in Montpelier in support of racial justice, a Harwood district student addressed the crowd of thousands and spoke about experiencing racism in school and responses by adults that fell short.

In an email just before 10 p.m. Sunday to board members, administrators and local news media, Nease wrote to acknowledge the robust debate about her job tenure and to defend her record regarding racism. She noted that the issue for her is personal given that her son-in-law and granddaughter are black.

This is Nease’s statement in full: “You have received many messages regarding community members’ opinions about my leadership for days now because I am undergoing an evaluation. I have not responded to any of them and I will not. That would be inappropriate. I am writing to you from the heart and must stand up for my granddaughter regarding one theme that is being shared widely on the Front Porch Forums and Facebook. Hear me. I abhor racism and racists, and have never spoken in an ambivalent way about institutional racism. My precious granddaughter and admired son-in-law are black and experience it all the time, as do other family members who are black. To be accused of such a thing required this response.”

Hollister said that the new developments would not affect the board’s plan to conduct Nease’s performance review on Wednesday. “Yes, the investigation would be separate,” she replied to an email inquiry.

Hollister said that she felt Nease’s Sunday night email and the new information made public warranted a quick response from the school board.

"Given it was so public, I felt compelled to respond. This is the first time the board has heard from this constituent. Given that this is a documented concern, we want to follow up on it and Brigid would want the same. My hope is that, with any allegation, that the public will allow us the opportunity to conduct an investigation, do our due diligence and do right by all parties involved," Hollister said.


Also on Monday morning, the board received two complaints from a community member regarding two members of the school board and their role in the superintendent’s contract renewal.


Moretown resident Neil Nussbaum in two messages to the board wrote to question whether Waterbury school board member Michael Frank and Waitsfield member Jeremy Tretiak should participate in Nease’s evaluation and contract discussions.

“I am writing to you this morning to bring a formal conflict of interest claim against board member Michael Frank,” Nussbaum wrote. He asked that Frank abstain from discussing or voting on the matter because it would create “the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Frank’s spouse is a school district employee, a point that Nussbaum said in an interview Monday raises concern. Nussbaum said he contacted Frank on Friday, June 5, to raise this issue but had not received a reply.

Likewise, Nussbaum referenced Tretiak: “I am writing to you this morning to bring a formal conflict of interest claim against board member Jeremy Tretiak. Specifically, I respectfully request that Director Tretiak abstain from discussing or voting on the above-referenced agenda item, as doing so would place director Tretiak ‘in a position that creates … the appearance of a conflict of interest,’” Nussbaum wrote.

Also in an interview Monday, Nussbaum said the key concern regarding Tretiak is that he is an officer in the firm Green Mountain Behavior Consulting, a company that contracts with the school district for upward of $1 million annually.

Hollister said the board would address Nussbaum’s complaints at the start of Wednesday’s meeting. She said the board’s policy in such cases would first ask the members at the center of a complaint whether they believe they have a conflict. The board could pursue the matter with an informal hearing.

“Both board members will be allowed to speak publicly on the issue,” she said.

Both Frank and Tretiak declined to comment before Wednesday’s meeting.

Lisa Loomis is editor of the Valley Reporter. Lisa Scagliotti is editor at