The name probably isn’t familiar to those outside of the Manchester School District. If it is, it might have to do with her being placed on leave in early 2016 for allegedly striking a disruptive student during class.
Funny thing about the incident that never made any headlines; three months later, the city’s prosecutor “Nolle Prossed” the simple assault charge, which means he declined to prosecute because there wasn’t enough evidence of wrongdoing. Three months after that, the court “annulled” her record, permanently removing her arrest and the charge brought against her from the public record. As far as the state is concerned, it never happened.
With the start of school the following September, Lemay would be reinstated by the district.
This article really isn’t about bringing attention to her complete exoneration, though that is a very important part of the story. It’s about what led to that fateful day when a veteran teacher who had worked 17 years in Manchester’s schools was unceremoniously escorted from her classroom by the principal and school resource officer to the exit door.
Lemay started her teaching career in Manchester in September 1996 as a Title I Certified Instructor at Beech St. School. Starting in December 1998, she worked as a long term substitute teacher in Hooksett, until returning to Manchester at the start of the 1999 school year as an “Essential Skills” teacher at Hillside. Starting in 2002, she taught Math at Hillside, fulfilling a dream she’d had since the fifth grade.
There, she worked happily, with positive evaluations and without incident until the 2013-2014 school year. Though he had given her a positive evaluation in the 2012-2013 school year, new principal Brendan McCafferty placed Lemay on an improvement plan in late March 2014, the very next school year.
Despite writing “Mrs. Lemay’s knowledge of the subject (math) is evident” in her 2012/2013 evaluation, and despite her being designated a “highly qualified teacher” by the state, McCafferty slighted her ability to teach math the following year in the improvement plan, writing:
Students, parents and colleagues have shared their concern about Mrs. Lemay’s knowledge of, and ability to instruct, middle school mathematical content.
His earlier evaluation of Lemay stated:
Mrs. Lemay routinely and appropriately checks for understanding. Student accomplishments are noted and praised when appropriate…Mrs. Lemay responds to errors in student work in a supportive manner.
Lemay was required to meet with McCafferty and Assistant Principal Julie Machakos weekly to review her lesson plans, which were to follow a template McCafferty provided, in every class; this despite McCafferty’s prior year’s evaluation in which he stated:
Mrs. Lemay plans lessons and units that relate to the NH Frameworks, GLEs and district curriculum. She creates and refines learning objectives for each lesson.
In addition, to “determine her knowledge of, and her ability to teach, the specific mathematical content,” there were to be weekly walkthroughs of her classes by McCafferty or Machakos.
She was also required to “create and maintain a student concerns and parental communications log” in which she was:
on a daily basis (to) document her concerns about students. She will include the following with each entry: date of entry, student name, method of communication with parent, outcome of communication with parent, outcome of concern with student, other information if relevant.
In the improvement plan, McCafferty claims:
Mrs. Lemay has demonstrated a pattern of struggling to get along with colleagues.
However, the prior year, McCafferty wrote in her evaluation:
Mrs. Lemay participates in grade level, content area, school based and district wide planning meetings. She collaborates with colleagues to achieve school and district goals. Mrs. Lemay does make an effort to work well with her colleagues and makes an effort to be a positive member of the Hillside community.
McCafferty also complained about Lemay’s ability to manage her classes in the improvement plan, alleging:
Mrs. Lemay continues to struggle with general classroom management issues. She has struggled to establish and maintain routines and structures that are respected and followed by all of her students. She continues to struggle to establish and maintain control of her students and classes…Mrs Lemay is often observed to be raising her voice and yelling at her students and classes. This pattern reflects a lack of control of students, of her classes and of her emotions. It is unsettling for students and concerning for administrators. It is also reflective of Mrs. Lemay’s frustration level, one that is not conducive to an appropriate middle school classroom environment.
Yet, just one year earlier, McCafferty wrote:
During the observed lesson, discipline was not an issue due to the established norms of conduct. The behavioral expectations appear to have been clearly communicated to the students…Overall Mrs. Lemay conducts herself positively and professionally.
That evaluation does note that Lemay “does struggle with classroom management occasionally” and that there were “periods of time when Mrs. Lemay seems to be very frustrated and often raises her voice in her class.” It is unclear whether or not these negative comments were the result of what McCafferty witnessed while observing her or tales told through the grapevine by unidentified parties.
McCafferty required Lemay to attend classroom management workshops, specifically approved by himself and Machakos. Lemay was also required to read and discuss, at her weekly meeting with McCafferty, articles on classroom management provided by McCafferty. He also required Lemay to attend workshops “specifically related to relationships with colleagues.” As with the others, McCafferty had to approve what she went to.
Not only did Lemay have to attend the classes, she had to write a “bulleted list of things she learned” and a “reflective piece” for each class management workshop and a “reflective piece” about each colleague relations workshop. Both were to be discussed with McCafferty at their weekly meeting. Though she may have been able to be reimbursed by the district, all of the workshops were to be paid for by Lemay.
All of this begs the questions: What happened? How could someone, about fifteen years into their career, go from a place of respect and favorability, someone who “conducts herself positively and professionally,” someone whose knowledge of the subject was “evident,” to someone who needs not just sweeping improvement plan, but one with such strict micro-managerial oversight in such a short period of time?
After reviewing dozens of documents and speaking with multiple sources who confirm the information provided by Lemay in multiple interviews with Girard at Large, the word sabotage comes repeatedly to mind.
It all started sort of suddenly, she said. During the 2013-2014 school year, some teachers, whom she declined to name, asked her to attend a meeting at Southern New Hampshire University’s cafe to discuss concerns they had about Hillside. She went but said nothing came of the meeting. Shortly thereafter, McCafferty asked her to come to his office one day after work, saying he wanted to talk to her. At the meeting, which included both assistant principals, she said she was “bombarded with accusations” about what she supposedly said to a female student. “I never said anything to the student,” said Lemay. “She was a very nice girl.” From there, things went down hill.
She doesn’t deny she had trouble with some students in her classes. However, she said McCafferty told certain kids they could leave her class anytime they wanted to go to his office. “Kids would get up and start walking toward the door,” she said. “I’d ask them were they were going and they’d say ‘to see Mr. McCafferty. He told us we could leave your class to see him anytime we wanted to.'” She also said there were five or six kids in each class who she believed had permission to intentionally disrupt her classes. “I would send them to the office and the office would send them back. There were never any repercussions.”
A specific example she gave included a student who recorded an algebra class she was teaching and brought it to McCafferty. According to Lemay, McCafferty called the student’s father to show him what the class was like. She found out about the recording and McCafferty’s actions from an apology the student wrote and slipped under her door explaining what had happened. Despite clearly violating the district’s policy regarding classroom recordings, and the state’s laws against wiretapping, no disciplinary action was taken against the student. The letter is not published here given Lemay’s concern that, even redacted, it may identify the student.
Another student wrote down a list of disruptive behaviors from several students during another class and gave it to Lemay.
Still another wrote a letter about the behavior of kids in her math class, along with an apology for her behavior.
One noteworthy incident involves McCafferty pulling a student, whose parent was a teacher at Hillside, out of class to meet with him about Lemay, who was the student’s math teacher. He was fishing for negative information on her. Troubled, the student went to a trusted teacher, not the parent, to share what had happened and the discomfort it caused. The teacher advised the student to tell their non-teacher parent. That parent hammered McCafferty, telling him, according to one source, that the child “won’t be part of your witch hunt against Mrs. Lemay.”
Lemay found out about this episode from teachers to whom the student had spoken.
Lemay felt generally and genuinely harassed. “He (McCafferty) was constantly coming into my classroom unannounced. Kids would gang up on me in class. They’d constantly interrupt my lessons by telling me I couldn’t teach.” Were they the same kids McCafferty said could leave your class anytime they wanted to see him? “Almost always,” she replied. During the scheduled observations required by the improvement plan, the administrator would sit in the back of the class with a laptop, typing away as she taught. “It was a distraction in the class,” she said.
I was a nervous wreck going to work because I didn’t know what he was going to do to me. I’d sit in my room after school with the door locked until 4:00 o’clock to avoid him. It was my downtime after school to avoid taking it out on my family. I’d go home almost everyday and cry because of the stress. My husband and kids saw what it was doing to me. I was always angry, upset and depressed.”
Lemay was placed on administrative leave while McCafferty investigated complaints about how she handled a class during a lockdown drill. She details what happened in a memo to then NEA-NH Uni-serve Director Michelle Couture. No disciplinary action was taken against the disruptive student. Lemay was reinstated soon thereafter.
In addition to unprecedented trouble with students, Lemay also had sudden problems with staff. “It got to the point when people wouldn’t even look at me,” she said. She felt isolated as those favored by McCafferty shunned her and many others kept their distance to avoid being added to McCafferty’s hit list. In one instance, McCafferty wrote her up for “interrupting” a special education class that was using her classroom during her prep. period. Lemay says she was correcting papers at her desk while a special education teacher was in her classroom with students, something she’d done many times. This teacher, a McCafferty favorite, didn’t like it and complained. McCafferty responded by writing Lemay up. Prior to that, he’d written her up for allegedly rolling her eyes during a conversation with him because she missed a meeting on how to input grading information in to a new system. She was obligated to be at a meeting of math teachers held at a different school, which McCafferty knew.
As Lemay continued to meet with McCafferty, things continued to worsen.
He would say all these parents and students have been complaining about me. I’d ask who was complaining and all he would say was ‘that doesn’t matter.’
Lemay would learn that McCafferty was intercepting messages left for her by parents. Parents calling the school to meet with her about their children would not get a response because she wouldn’t received their messages. Given that the improvement plan faulted her for failing to communicate with parents, this seems particularly egregious.
The anxiety that all of this caused got the better of Lemay. In late March 2014, she filed for the first of many leaves of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for severe anxiety, which was clinically diagnosed by a licensed psychologist in Concord. She was also diagnosed with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She finished out the school year but presented the district with a note from her psychologist seeking an accommodation to her work schedule that would have her teaching Monday through Thursday in the hope the longer weekends would help alleviate her anxiety.
She also, with the help of the teachers union, arranged for a “504 plan,” an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That plan required a designated member of the union to be present at all meetings with McCafferty. It also barred McCafferty from entering her classroom or from having any direct personal contact. According to Lemay, McCafferty would disregard the restrictions as he saw fit.
At the end of February 2015, Lemay again filed for leave under the FMLA. At the end of March, she filed to extend her leave for another month. At the end of April, she returned to the classroom and had “a great week,” she said. “The kids were perfect. Then the following Monday, it’s like someone flipped a switch. They went from being perfect to disruptive all over again.” She believes they were given permission to act up because the change in their behavior was so dramatic. By the end of that week, she had filed for another FMLA and would be out for the rest of the year. Lemay wouldn’t return to Hillside ever again.
In addition to providing Girard at Large with her psychologist’s notes to the school district in support of her FMLA petitions, Lemay also provided her medial records from a Manchester-based Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who also assessed her condition and prescribed her many medications. The APRN’s notes, which start in March 2015, confirm the situation.
She reports significant anxiety and stress, and she attributes most of this stress to her job. She reports she has traditionally loved her job teaching math and she cares about the students; however, she reports that the new principal just does not like her. She feels he is watching her, criticizing her constantly. He is vague about the complaints about her. She has no specifics as to anything she might be doing wrong and she feels she has been set up to fail. She reports that he has solicited the comments from students in order to find fault with her. She is now on medical leave for stress…She can have some physical signs of anxiety including GI distress and palpitations.
In May, after she went back out on leave, the APRN’s notes report:
Anita has been taken out of work for the rest of the year. She went back hopeful, but in just a short period of time, the principal continued to be critical of her, one student videotaped her to prove she is a bad teacher; students threw erasers at her head; one student had a picture of a primate and told her it was her.
Anita feels sad that her time at Hillside has ended and she feels badly that she won’t be at school for her 8th graders step up day to high school…She will be transferring to Southside next year.
Lemay says she was looking forward to a “fresh start” at Southside. She was eager to get back to school. She felt hopeful for the first time in a long time, a sentiment confirmed by her medical notes. She believes McCafferty poisoned the well for her at Southside. Southside’s principal at the time, Jenn Gillis, now interim superintendent, had then, and continues to have now, a close relationship with McCafferty. She didn’t know that at the time.
“At first, things seemed okay,” she reflected, “but it wasn’t long before I felt like my team wasn’t gelling. Things didn’t feel right.” She said she felt isolated and like members of her teaching team and Gillis had “an attitude” towards her, though she admits the anxiety followed her. “With what happened at Hillside, I didn’t know if I could trust anyone. My anxiety was better, but still there.” Nonetheless, she made it into January 2016 without incident, until a series of events that showed her misgivings about whether or not she was truly given a fresh start may have been well founded.
On Wednesday, January 27, 2016 her team went on a field trip. She agreed to stay back at school with the students who were not attending. There were more than 20 of them, about a third of which were kids considered “emotionally handicapped” or “emotionally behaviorally disturbed.” These are children who cannot be left alone and often need one-on-one attention. She learned that morning that the Language Arts teacher who also agreed to stay back had decided to go on the field trip, as did the special education teacher and the paraprofessional. She was alone with a classroom that should have had at least two other professionals to properly attend to the children. Lemay said that only the science teacher gave her what the kids needed for the day. The social studies teacher brought a packet. They Language Arts teacher “sent a student with her assignment. No supplies came from her.”
It wasn’t long before she had to call the office for help, she said. “The assistant principal (Don Menswar) came upstairs to give me a hand. He was very surprised that they left me alone with these kids.” She’d essentially been abandoned by the team. “How come the administration didn’t know,” she wondered.
The following day, she said the science teacher felt bad and was sorry about what happened. The paraprofessional, she said, told her he didn’t want to go on the field trip but that other team members told him he had to go and that he wasn’t happy about it. She gave that information to Mr. Menswar but, before he could look into it, “Friday happened.”
Lemay was looking forward to Friday, January 29, 2016. It was the day that Gillis was going to review her findings of the observation she’d conducted of Lemay the prior week. The day got off to an unusual start, Lemay said. The PTO wanted to speak to the eighth graders first thing in the morning, so there was no first period class. During second period, she had a small class because the band and chorus decided to have a combined class. She gave her kids review work for the quiz they had scheduled for Monday. The regular team meeting was canceled by the social studies and language arts teacher because the science teacher was absent. She didn’t find out until she went to the meeting, despite reminding them she’d have to leave early to meet with Gillis. She said the social studies teacher “got up from her desk and just walked out the door without saying a word,” when she asked if the team was still meeting.
She consulted with her calendar about the meeting with Gillis and found that it had been changed to a time when she had class. She called the office about it but the secretary who managed the calendar was at lunch. She went to her classroom to meet her students, then called the office to ask for coverage so she could go to her scheduled meeting with Gillis. She was told Gillis wasn’t there and that the meeting would need to be rescheduled. Lemay went on with the class, which was a Special Ed. class in which a test had been scheduled.
A student entered the class with a big box of candy that he’d won in a raffle from a special education teacher. She asked him to put it away but he ignored her, continuing to both eat candy and pass it to other kids in the class who were also eating the candy. She called the special education teacher’s class to ask if anyone was coming to assist with the test. “In a minute,” was the reply. She said she needed someone in the room “immediately” then started to take attendance, asking the kids to quiet down and take their seats.
The paraprofessional came in and told the kids to sit down. Meanwhile, the candy was still being passed around. While she was walking toward the boy with the candy she asked him to put it away. “He poured the contents into his hand.” Lemay said she reached for the box to take it away but the boy jerked his hand away from her and the box went flying. She insists she never made contact with the boy, only the box.
Then, she said, the paraprofessional called the boy out of the class and both left. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Menswar and the school resource (police) officer came into the room and asked if everything is ok. She said things were fine “now,” assuming the paraprofessional was writing the boy up for his behavior with the candy. Menswar and the officer left the classroom.
She started the test, using the board to explain how to use the math tables. As she was doing this, the officer came back into the class and sat down. Then the offending student and paraprofessional returned to the class. About fifteen minutes later, Gillis and Menswar came to the class and called her out into the hallway. Gillis told her “I needed to get my belongings and leave the building.” Lemay asked why. Gillis answered that she couldn’t say but that the administration would be in contact with her next week. Angry, she told them she could find her own way out of the building and didn’t need an escort.
On February 1, 2016, despite being placed on administrative leave, she filed for another medical leave that would take her until the end of the school year. In March, the attorney she retained over the incident told her she could go to the Manchester Police Department and “turn herself in” or they would come to her door and take her away in handcuffs. She went to the police station and was arrested and charged with simple assault.
As you know from the beginning of this article, the city declined to prosecute the charge because there wasn’t evidence of an assault. What you don’t know is that Lemay was offered a position at Beech St. School, where her career started, teaching third grade. The incident at Southside followed her. While setting up her classroom, a male teacher walked in and told her “here at Beech St, we don’t put our hands on kids.”
Lemay was unable to control her anxiety. After filing for yet another medical leave at the end of September, which would have had her out for the entire school year, she decided to put in for retirement due to disability. With 18 years in the system, she was two years shy of being able to obtain a full pension. In what appears to be the only helpful thing the district did for Lemay during this harrowing time, then HR Director Pamela Hogan sent a November 14, 2016 letter to the NH Retirement System Board providing “documents that we believe beneficial to the review of Ms. Lemay’s claim.”
It should be noted that Lemay says she left multiple messages with then Superintendent Debra Livingston, asking to discuss how McCafferty was treating her at Hillside. No calls were returned, she said.
The retirement was granted after a review of her case, which included a hearing at which Lemay’s daughter gave very emotional testimony about how what happened at Hillside had so badly damaged her mom.
The publicity surrounding her arrest caused her to lose her job as a CCD teacher at her church (which was given back to her after she was exonerated) and has haunted her for every job she’s applied for since, including positions as a math tutor. “It’s always the same,” she said. “The tell me I’m not qualified. Anytime someone Googles my name, that mug shot from the arrest comes up and it’s over.”
Lemay said she’s coming forward now because of the articles that have been published about McCafferty’s abuse of other Hillside staff members on Girard at Large. “Reading your articles made all fear, anger and everything he did to me come back out.” Despite her misgivings about coming forward to tell her story and the emotional grief reliving all of this has caused her, she said she could no longer be quiet.
I can’t stand by while he continues to hurt people the way he hurt me. It has to stop. He’s terrorizing others the way he terrorized me. So many people who, like me, left to get away from his bullying and abuse. If my speaking out helps other victims who are afraid to speak out because they still work in the district, I have to try. I hope it will protect others from him. Nobody deserves the mean things he does to bully, harass and intimidate people he doesn’t like. He’s ruined a lot of good people and deprived the kids at Hillside of some great teachers. It has to stop!
As Girard at-Large has reported, (McCafferty’s protected and enabled “Reign of Terror” at Hillside, McCafferty’s Sunday Morning Message and its Fallout, “Hillside Administration” under investigation) there have been several, serious abuse allegations against Brendan McCafferty. Anita Lemay’s account of how she was harassed demonstrates that McCafferty’s bullying behavior began shortly after he became Hillside’s principal. It also reveals a consistent, systematic pattern of behavior that disenfranchises, isolates and demeans selected staff members through relentless harassment by McCafferty, fostered through his personal conduct and the conduct he enables and encourages in others. Inexcusably, district administrators have largely ignored multiple staff complaints or conducted their investigations in ways designed to protect McCafferty, ie., allowing him to select participants that were said to have been randomly chosen (2018) or by doing video interviews with staff in Hillside during school hours when they may be seen or overheard in the current investigation, a method that has caused some staff members who would be critical of McCafferty not to participate. Simply put, they’re afraid to become his next target as they don’t believe the district will do anything to stop him or protect them, especially with Gillis at the helm.
The similarities between Lemay’s experience and every other person who has spoken with Girard at Large anonymously are striking and beg important questions that can and should no longer be ignored. Teachers currently at Hillside, and over the years, have gone to the administration. The teachers union has complained. Approximately two dozen seasoned staff members have transferred out of Hillside. The staff is clearly split into “pro,” “con” and “I just keep my head down and try to stay out of it” camps. Emails from him clearly show he organizes staff members to gang up on other staff members. Lemay isn’t the only teacher who had an accommodation plan that directed McCafferty to stay away, etc…Yet, the abuse continues. Why?
Girard at-Large has good reason to believe other teachers will come forward on the record now that Anita Lemay’s story has been told. When they come forward, we will share their stories here. They are as awful as Anita’s and they are many. Now, some want to be heard in the hope of protecting others. The time has come. The time is now.