MERIDEN — A hearing officer determined local school officials had sufficient grounds to terminate a former Lincoln Middle School teacher’s employment with the district when she refused to accept a reassignment to teach kindergarten at John Barry Elementary School prior to the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
According to a report written by hearing officer Peter Adomeit, the teacher, Patricia Carnese, rejected a subsequent offer to teach third grade at another school prior to her termination. Meriden school officials provided Adomeit’s report in response to a Record-Journal records request.
Carnese’s last day of employment was July 6 — the day the Board of Education formally voted to terminate her. According to school officials, Carnese so far is the only city teacher whose employment with the district had been terminated during Superintendent Mark D. Benigni’s 11-year tenure.
Carnese’s termination coincided with ongoing legal complaints the teacher filed against district officials challenging the first reassignment. Carnese claims she was reassigned in retaliation for a workers’ compensation claim she filed after suffering an injury on the job.
Adomeit, wrote in the 29-page report issued three months after the hearings, that Carnese was “knowing and deliberate” in deciding over the span of a year not to report to work, despite written warnings.
Carnese’s attorney has promised to appeal the termination, citing sections of Adomeit’s findings he said were based on incorrect interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Adomeit’s findings described Carnese as having deliberately failed to show up for work. The findings stated her decisions over a 14-month-span were an act of “insubordination against reasonable rules of the board of education,” a finding district officials cited in her termination. Adomeit wrote, “A contrary interpretation would lead to the absurd result that a teacher may refuse in writing not to show up for a job, never show up, and never be terminated.”
Adomeit wrote that doctors’ notes submitted in testimony did not state she was only capable of teaching sixth grade and not kindergarten, with or without accommodations. Adomeit wrote the language in those notes is “couched in such words as ‘preferable.’”
Michael Satti, Carnese’s attorney, told the Record-Journal he believes that finding in particular is “legally incorrect” and that employers “have an obligation to come up with a reasonable accommodation.”
Adomeit wrote in his findings that Carnese “flat out refused to engage in the interactive process” when Assistant Superintendent Louis Bronk offered her the alternative third grade position.
“Had [Carnese] accepted the third grade offer, she would still be in teaching,” Adomeit wrote.
According to Meriden school officials, Carnese last receive a payout of her teacher’s salary on May 7, 2020. The district’s third party worker’s compensation insurer began issuing checks in March 2020.
Carnese’s court filings stated the teacher suffered a spinal injury on Feb. 9, 2018, when she was pushed into a wall at Lincoln Middle School while trying to break up a fight between two students. At the time, she was a sixth grade teacher at the school.
According to legal filings, Carnese over the next few years would undergo continuous neurological evaluations and physical therapy treatment to recover from the injuries suffered during the incident.
Satti, Carnese’s attorney, told the Record-Journal earlier this month his client will continue to pursue her court challenge of local officials’ handling of her reassignment, and now termination.
Satti said his client has suffered lingering symptoms following the 2018 altercation. He said until 2019, his client had never missed a day of work. Satti said his client has since been unable to obtain another teaching position.