Followed by a chorus of applauds, speaker after speaker told the Glen Rock school district they felt the abrupt dismissal of a longtime lunch aide was egregious.
Patricia Little, a special education and lunch aide for 43 years at Coleman School, received a letter two days before the start of the 2012-2013 school year informing her the district no longer needed her services. Little alleges Coleman School Principal Dawn Cappadona targeted her because of her age, 78, and says she made false claims that Little had pushed a child. It all amounted to bullying, Little claims.
Appearing before the school board again on Monday, Little said she hasn't received the answers she's been looking for. And she won't publicly, either.
Little was not permitted to discuss the letter Interim Superintendent Ray Albano had written her that spelled out the reasons she was not re-hired, as it fell into "personnel issues" and according to school officials, must be discussed privately. Albano offered a private meeting with her and Cappadona instead.
Before she was cut off by school officials, Little cited two passages in Albano's letter as the supposed cause for her not being rehired.
Little admitted that during the 2010-2011 school year there was a meeting between her, the head lunch aide and Cappadona over an incident in which a child was troubled by an incident at the soccer field and Little claims she gently told him to "'go play, you'll be fine,' the same way any parent would."
"I was asked by the principal to handle these types of situations a little differently in the future," she said, addressing the school board. "I don't understand how differently or how much better I could have explained it to him. I never heard another word about it thereafter. No inappropriate behavior strategies were [discussed] at that meeting."
The following year she says she never met formally with Cappadona, a contradiction of Albano's statement in the letter, she said.
"Never in a million years did I think I would receive my rejection letter two days before school started," Little said. "I was never notified or given a statement or reasons."
The decision to not let Little air the alleged dirty laundry in public did little to engender good feelings with the standing room-only crowd Monday night.
Albano has said the process of letting Little go was proper but supporters of Little said she's been bullied and mistreated by the district.
"This could have been handled in a much better way," said resident Ann Martino. "We should be giving this woman a party and a plaque... I think she needs a board of education hearing. She needs protection, obviously."
Martino, in a tense back-and-forth with board members and administrators, promised that if the district did not address Little's issues, she "would go further."
Others, including former students and colleagues, also came to Little's defense at the Monday night meeting.
A former student said the only person who helped her transition after moving to Coleman School was Little.
"To find out this woman was accused of pushing a kid was embarrassing," she said. "Because absolutely, under no circumstances, in any way shape or form, could she do that."
A former teacher also came to the aid of Little, lauding her as a dedicated member of the education community.
"She gave so much time and love to the children," said Reggie Feinstein, a retired Coleman educator. "Pat, I just want to tell you how much we appreciate and recognize everything you did for the town of Glen Rock, for the children especially, for the teachers and the parents."
Little has stated she might consider filing a discrimination case against the school district.
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