Families fume at Orange Elementary School Committee over LPN hire

Fisher Hill School in Orange.

Fisher Hill School in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Darlene Rowe, who said she has a grandchild at Fisher Hill School, speaks to the Orange Elementary School Committee on Monday about the school district hiring an unlicensed man as a licensed practical nurse.

Darlene Rowe, who said she has a grandchild at Fisher Hill School, speaks to the Orange Elementary School Committee on Monday about the school district hiring an unlicensed man as a licensed practical nurse. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Sabrina Crandall speaks to the Orange Elementary School Committee on Monday about the school district hiring an unlicensed man as a licensed practical nurse at Fisher Hill School.

Sabrina Crandall speaks to the Orange Elementary School Committee on Monday about the school district hiring an unlicensed man as a licensed practical nurse at Fisher Hill School. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

From left, Orange Elementary School Committee Chair Mallory Ellis, district Superintendent Elizabeth Zielinski, School Committee Secretary Jessica Reske and School Committee Vice Chair Josefa Scherer at a meeting at Fisher Hill School on Monday.

From left, Orange Elementary School Committee Chair Mallory Ellis, district Superintendent Elizabeth Zielinski, School Committee Secretary Jessica Reske and School Committee Vice Chair Josefa Scherer at a meeting at Fisher Hill School on Monday. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-10-2024 5:00 PM

ORANGE — Community members on Monday expressed their disgust with the Orange Elementary School Committee over the hiring of unqualified man as Fisher Hill School’s licensed practical nurse.

Robert Davis, who was employed from Oct. 2 to Feb. 28, possessed only a certified nursing assistant license and resigned from his position when administrators learned the information more than a month ago. Families were notified with a March 27 letter signed by Elizabeth Zielinski, superintendent of the Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Union 73 school districts. However, the correspondence did little to comfort parents and guardians who described being horrified to learn that Davis did not have his licensure status checked before he was hired.

“I have never in my career witnessed such disrespect and disregard for the safety of the children of Orange. I am having difficulty even speaking to you right now because I am so unhappy with what’s happened here in this community,” said Darlene Rowe, who signed up to speak.

Rowe told the School Committee she has been in the health care field for 32 years and has worked in human resources for about 12.

“My grandchild comes to this school. There’s many other children that come to this school with health care needs,” she said.

April Knapp, a mother with a child enrolled in the school, wanted to know who was supposed to conduct the proper background check and if that person will be held responsible.

“I honestly think that whoever it is should step down,” she said. “They should not be here anymore.”

Sabrina Crandall said her main concern is that the man hired could have harmed students.

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“We got lucky,” she said. “We got lucky that this didn’t turn into some parent’s worst nightmare, that somebody was in the building that shouldn’t have been, that was willing to commit fraud.”

Crandall also echoed others’ dismay that not all parents get emails from administration.

“There’s no accountability,” she said, adding that it seems that efforts are made by the administration to downplay unfavorable scenarios so parents and guardians are not angered. “These are our children. We’re not supposed to be calm and quiet.”

Mallory Ellis, who chairs the Orange Elementary School Committee, read a statement following the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting. She said the committee takes student safety very seriously and appropriate steps have been taken to investigate the concerns. She also said the authorities have been notified.

“Administration is working collaboratively with appropriate agencies in this investigation, which is still ongoing. We understand that the members of the community want specifics about the investigations that are taking place and if any wrongdoing by staff has occurred. We cannot legally speak to these matters, protected by privacy exemption of the personnel law,” Ellis read. “In the future, there will be a more stringent review of licensure for any new hires in the nursing staff and when more information can be shared, we will share it, at the conclusion of investigations and when those processes have finished.”

Ellis previously said a new licensed practical nurse has been hired since Davis resigned. She said the school district has for this entire academic year employed a full-time registered nurse certified by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and that a licensed practical nurse serves more of a supportive role.

Ellis said parents and guardians were alerted to news regarding the LPN on three occasions — in a newsletter entry announcing the LPN vacancy, through the mass communication system with families and in the March 27 letter signed by Zielinski.

Anyone with questions or concerns is encouraged to call the superintendent’s office at 978-544-2920.

   Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com.