Waterville Principal Fired at Public Dismissal Hearing

Reiter remained stoic and emotionless throughout his hearing.

Reiter remained stoic and emotionless throughout his hearing.

After months of speculation, the Waterville Board of Education finally held a public dismissal hearing for Waterville High School Principal Don Reiter on November 10. The hearing, which was held at the George J. Mitchell School’s gymnasium, was made public at Reiter’s request. The Portland Press Herald reported that Gregg Frame, Reiter’s lawyer, said, “he’s actually waiving any confidentiality and wants the hearing to be in open session. He’s got nothing to hide.”

Waterville Superintendent Eric Haley placed Reiter on paid leave on September 1, 2015 without revealing the reason behind the decision. The superintendent’s office conducted an internal investigation. The Waterville police department also led an investigation and sent their report to the Kennebec District Attorney Maeghan Maloney.

The Waterville community was finally made aware of the accusations against Reiter on Tuesday night, when the school’s attorney Melissa Hewey stated that Reiter allegedly asked a student into his office, closed the door and told her, “every year I choose one student to have sex with, and this year I’ve picked you.” Frame and Reiter have both denied the allegations. It was clear that most of the 125-person crowd at the hearings supported Reiter and believed him to be innocent. Many of them were dressed in Waterville High School apparel, and when Reiter entered the gym after three hours in executive session on Wednesday, a majority of the crowd gave him a standing ovation for several minutes.  Elizabeth Bryan ’17, who attended Tuesday’s hearing as well as Wednesday’s, told the Echo “sitting in the audience during the standing ovation given to Principal Reiter was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever been a part of, and was a moment I will never forget.” She also added, “as Colby students, it is our obligation to engage with the Waterville community, even in times as difficult as these, and I would encourage students to educate themselves about the details of this case.”

After opening statements on Tuesday, the school board spent three and a half hours in executive session in the school library, breaking for the night at around 10 p.m. The hearing resumed at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The school board spent an additional three and a half hours in closed session, but reemerged to hear the testimony of Carol Laqualia, a guidance counselor, Joyce Blakney, a mathematics teacher and president of the Waterville Education Association, and Claudia Pellerin, Reiter’s former secretary, who now works in the superintendent’s office. All three voiced their strong support for Reiter, and expressed their shock at the charges. When asked what she thought about the charges against Reiter, Blakney said, “I thought it was ludicrous.” 

After both lawyers interviewed the three character witnesses, the board went back into executive session, came back into the gymnasium, and then voted to resume executive session again. They remained there for the duration of the evening, leaving at approximately 8:30 p.m. The Morning Sentinel reported that when asked about why the board voted so quickly to go back into executive session, Frame said that the parties were going to discuss whether or not to have the closing statements in open or closed session. He added that he was calling for them to be open.

The public hearing was scheduled to continue on Monday night, and was projected to only last an hour. On Sunday, the Morning Sentinel reported that Waterville police are investigating reports from former female students of Reiter at Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich, New Hampshire. Reiter served as a social studies teacher, chairman of the social studies and foreign language department, and assistant principal during his ten years there.

Reiter’s wife, Terri Reiter, filed for divorce on September 15, two weeks after Reiter was placed on leave. Terri Reiter requested that the divorce proceedings be sealed to protect their seven-year-old daughter from the details of their divorce being public knowledge.

Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said that two former students of Reiter have been calling the station and reporting that he displayed behavior at Mascenic. One-student claims that she had sex with Reiter at the end of her senior year or just after she graduated. The other student reported that she engaged in an inappropriate relationship with him, and the police were provided with 147 pages of love letters from Reiter, which according to the press release discussed his love for her and a kiss between the two. Waterville sent Detective Bill Bonney to New Ipswich on Friday to speak with the students and one of their mothers, as well as with Mascenic staff. The Waterville polices’ press release stated that Bonney was approached at a conference in Southern Maine on Thursday by a former Mascenic student who said that she had friends who had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Reiter.

Frame stated to the Portland Press Herald that he finds it “curious that this comes up the weekend before the board is to continue deliberations on Don’s dismissal Monday.”

On Monday, the Waterville Board of Education voted 6-1 to dismiss Reiter from his position as principal. Sara Sylvester, chairwoman, Joan Phillips Sandy, Pamela Trinward, Maryanne Bernier, Tiffany LaLiberty and Elizabeth Bickford voted to dismiss. Board member Susan Maxwell Reisert, who is the wife of Colby Professor of American Constitutional Law in the Government Department Joseph Reisert and  herself a 1986 Colby graduate, was the only member to vote against dismissing the principal.

Reiter and Frame have 30 days to decide whether or not to appeal the sentence, and the Morning Sentinel reported that he stated, “I’ll sit down with my client, and we’ll consider that.” The board also rejected the opportunity 7-0 to reopen the evidence segment of the case to investigate the new accusations against Reiter from two former students in New Hampshire.

Police forwarded their report on the Reiter case to Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, DA,  who has said that she will not decide on the case until she hears how the school board voted.

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