Claiming retaliation, Mount Everett whistleblower files suit against district
SHEFFIELD — A Mount Everett Regional School staffer has sued the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, alleging retaliation for his whistleblowing about the district's failure to provide promised services to students with learning disabilities, including his son, charges that the district strongly denies.
Kurt DeGrenier, 48, also claims that, despite not providing the full range of special services for students who do not live in district towns, Southern Berkshire was charging the sending district an extra fee for services intended for these "school choice" students.
He also alleges that through anecdotal reports, he suspected that "more than half of the SBRSD students with IEPs (individualized educational programs) were not receiving all of the accommodations and services set forth in their IEPs."
The suit lists as defendants Superintendent Beth Regulbuto, Mount Everett Regional School Director of Student Services Sandra Hubbard, and members of the School Committee. It also alleges that the district breached two contracts with DeGrenier, who has worked for the district for 15 years. Both contracts arose when he and the district tried to resolve the issues brought on by his complaints.
DeGrenier, a former longtime dean of students, is seeking unspecified damages to be determined at trial, "plus triple damages, attorneys' fees, interest and costs."
In an emailed statement, Regulbuto denied the allegations and called DeGrenier's claims "baseless."
In the lawsuit filed on Oct. 1 in Berkshire Superior Court, DeGrenier, who is Mount Everett's student support room coordinator, says it was the services laid out in his own son's IEP that had not been fully provided that led him to question the district and proceed with complaints.
DeGrenier lives in North Adams, and five of his six children have attended schools in Southern Berkshire. His youngest, a son, attends Mount Everett.
He said he first complained to Hubbard that the school was not providing his son with services including, "frequent check-ins for comprehension of material presented," help with "repetition and practice of skills when necessary" and a "sufficient degree of academic support."
Soon he raised questions with Regulbuto about the larger concerns of charging the sending school district for services that weren't provided, and that other students were not having their IEPs met. And it was this that led to the descent into alleged retaliation for his whistleblowing, which continues, according to the suit.
Also a varsity softball coach, DeGrenier was demoted to his current position, the suit says. He also claims Regulbuto waged a campaign to destroy his reputation among staff that included insinuations that "Mr. DeGrenier had done something egregious."
The suit claims that Regulbuto took steps to "undermine" him in numerous ways, and also forced him out of the union and into "at-will employee" status, and used a Title IX complaint that Regulbuto "fraudulently used as a mechanism to retaliate" against him.
"When an investigation revealed that Mr. DeGrenier committed no Title IX violation, Ms. Regulbuto still took away Mr. DeGrenier's supervisory and his primary duties," the suit says.
In October 2018, DeGrenier told the district he intended to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the United States Department of Education on behalf of himself and his son to force the school to provide the IEP services, refrain from further retaliation, restore him to his prior position and compensate him and correct various wrongs.He says the district asked him not to file the complaint, and instead try to resolve the matter. This led to a settlement agreement in February that included a new employment contract. The suit alleges the district breached both by demoting DeGrenier and not giving his son the help that was promised.
Regulbuto declined further comment, saying that "in general, the district does not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters." She said the district's mission is "to serve the educational needs of all of our students, and we continue to do so."
In an emailed statement, Kevin Kinne, DeGrenier's attorney, said that he is launching an "aggressive" legal case against the district.
"It is a shame that we have gotten to this point, but Kurt feels strongly that he needs to stand up for his son, his family and the families of other students," Kinne wrote, noting that his client has devoted his whole career to Mount Everett students and their families.
The issue also had cropped up publicly at the start of the 2018 school year when parents and students noticed the absence at school of the popular DeGrenier, and began asking questions on social media and of school officials.
Then a Labor Day weekend Facebook post from an unidentified Mount Everett teacher warned the Southern Berkshire community that the work environment there is "hostile"; police investigated, and no charges resulted.
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.