MANCHESTER — A judge has dismissed wrongful termination complaints brought by the former principal of Webster Elementary School against two Manchester school administrators, while allowing portions of her lawsuit against the school district itself to proceed.
The lawsuit, which named Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas, Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen and the school district as defendants, was filed in December by Sarah Lynch, claiming she was fired for threatening to expose a “litany of illegal practices” in city schools, including staffing issues in the Emotional Behavior Disorder program and a failure to notify authorities after she was stabbed and suffered a concussion in separate confrontations with students.
In the lawsuit, Lynch said school administrators told her she was let go for improper use of school funds and failure to follow protocol in hiring a new assistant principal at Webster School.
Lynch said Webster School owed a vendor, Tucker Library, $1,611 for work done at the school as part of a library renovation project. In her complaint, Lynch claims the school district instructed her she could not pay the bill using funds held in various accounts. The vendor continued efforts to receive payment, eventually turning the matter over to a collection agency and threatening Lynch with a personal lawsuit. Lynch eventually paid the bill using funds from a donation by Hannaford Supermarkets.
On Thursday, Hillsborough County Superior Court-North Judge Amy Messer granted, in part, a motion to dismiss Lynch’s complaint, dismissing her claims of wrongful termination and violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act against the district.
Messer also dismissed all claims against Vargas and Allen, while allowing Lynch’s claim that the school district violated her right to freedom of speech to continue.
“The district will continue to vigorously defend itself against Ms. Lynch’s remaining claim, and looks forward to its chance to be heard in court,” said Atty. Demetrio Aspiras of the law firm Drummond Woodsum, representing the Manchester school district.
Aspiras argued that neither Vargas nor Allen had the ability to fire Lynch — a decision requiring a vote by the school board — and claims brought against them should be dismissed.
Aspiras argued that despite Lynch’s “shotgun, scorched earth, litigation strategy,” she failed to state any specific claims against Vargas, Allen, or the SAU, and the suit should be dismissed.
In her decision, Messmer agreed, writing “even assuming defendants were proper defendants to plaintiff’s wrongful termination and whistleblower protection claims, plaintiff’s claims fail as a matter of law because she did not exhaust her administrative remedies.”
According to Aspiras, the school board scheduled a hearing for Oct. 29, 2018 to consider firing Lynch and notified her of the hearing. Lynch “chose not to participate in the hearing,” writes Aspiras in the district’s response. “Because she did not participate in the hearing, she necessarily did not challenge the evidence presented, did not present her own evidence, and made no arguments against her dismissal during the hearing.”
School board members voted unanimously at that hearing to fire Lynch from her position.
Messmer allowed Lynch’s claim against the district that her right to freedom of speech was violated to continue.
In her complaint, Lynch alleges she was told not to communicate with any district employee for any reason under the threat of immediate termination, a threat also communicated by the district’s attorney to the Manchester Education Association and made known to Lynch’s friends and colleagues.
“The district recognizes that at this stage of the proceedings, the court is required to assume that what Ms. Lynch says is true and that the District was unable to present its side of the story or challenge Ms. Lynch’s allegations,” said Aspiras in a statement. “The district is very pleased that the court agreed that the bulk of Ms. Lynch’s claims were not supported by the facts as she presented them. The district will formally respond to the remaining claim in accordance with court rules.”
Aspiras said the district continues to deny the “false and irresponsible allegations” contained in Lynch’s complaint related to the Emotional Behavioral Disorder (“EBD”) program at Webster Elementary School.
In her lawsuit, Lynch claims Manchester school officials “turned the Webster School into a dumping ground for troubled kids,” using the EBD program as a “warehouse.”
Lynch said she repeatedly complained about a lack of funding, as only $5,212 was budgeted for training and staffing for the program, but administrators ignored her warnings, Lynch claims.
She believes the lack of staffing contributed to her being stabbed in the abdomen by a student on Sept. 25, 2017, and being “beaten by a student to the point of a concussion” on Feb. 22, 2018.
“The EBD program allows students to participate in the great educational program at Webster with their peers by integrating social and behavioral skills to allow access to a regular academic setting,” said Aspiras in a statement. “Since 2013, the New Hampshire Department of Education has approved Webster to provide the EBD program and it has been a successful program for many years under the leadership of several past principals.”
In February, Lynch, 39, was arrested on a charge she filed a false police report following an extensive investigation into her claim that an unidentified male adult broke into her home, assaulted her and left after a brief struggle.
“Due to fabricating the entire incident, Lynch was ultimately charged with falsifying physical evidence and creating a false report to law enforcement,” Manchester police officials said in a news release.
Lynch pleaded not guilty and was released on her own recognizance, with a requirement she schedule a mental health examination.