Investigator alleged communication with former student was inappropriate
Former Hull School Superintendent Michael Devine, whose contract was terminated in April 2020, last week filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against the town and the Hull School Committee members involved with that action, which took place in executive session amid allegations of professional misconduct.
Devine, who became the Hull Public Schools superintendent in 2017 after serving as Hull High School principal for eight years, had been on a leave of absence since February, which was followed by a paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an independent administrative review by the district’s media relations firm, John Guilfoil Public Relations (JGPR), related to those allegations.
Based on the findings contained in the resulting 70-page report, the School Committee voted unanimously to terminate Devine’s contract, alleging inappropriate communications with a former student through text messages shared between the two parties.
Devine’s attorney Stephen Kuzma, with a law office in Boston, contacted The Hull Times about the lawsuit. The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, relates to alleged breach of a written contract; emotional distress; violation of constitutional rights (freedom of association and freedom of speech); discrimination based on sexual orientation; and lost wages and future lost wages, according to Kuzma.
“It was a very faulty investigation,” he said. “The town of Hull engaged a public relations firm to do the investigation that had no experience in this type of work.”
At the time the public relations firm was hired, then-newly appointed School Superintendent Judith Kuehn had this to say: “The Hull School Committee, faced with serious allegations against the leader of the district, recognized the need for an independent and expeditious finding of facts.”
Accordingly, the district contracted with JGPR for a number of reasons, including its longstanding relationship with the Hull Public Schools, its reputation for efficient work, and “its existing relationships with subject matter experts and investigators through providing administrative review service to multiple school districts in multiple states,” according to Kuehn at that time.
(Kuehn, named interim superintendent until a permanent superintendent could be hired, was appointed permanent superintendent in May.)
Kuzma also told the Times that the communications in question between Devine and a student who had graduated from Hull High School three years earlier were initiated by the former student.
“Two adults have every right to text one another,” Kuzma said. “In terminating [Devine’s] services, [the School Committee] cited policies and procedures governing students and teachers, but none of the charges apply because the [young man who contacted Devine] was no longer a student, and the policies and procedures didn’t apply to anything my client conveyed in his texts.”
Kuzma described the essence of the former student’s message to Devine: “He basically said he was very fond of my client [Devine] and thanked him for his assistance while a student.”
After Devine texted back to the former student, the young man later reported the text communications to an HPS staff member, according to Kuzma, “and that’s where the investigation began.”
Kuzma said he could not convey the content of the messages Devine sent to the student. “This is not about their conversations, but about two adults having the right to text one another without the school [system] getting involved.”
According to Kuzma, the only person referred to in the lawsuit besides Devine was the former student, who is referred to by name, which Kuzma declined to disclose.
Kuzma cited Devine’s “exemplary” record with the Hull Public Schools. “He came up through the ranks and had totally satisfactory performance reviews, and now he has been deprived of the profession he has worked so hard in for all of his life. He most likely will suffer economic damages for the rest of his work life. A wrong has been done to Michael Devine, and that needs to be remedied.”
Contacted by the Times, Kuehn said she was “unable to comment on any pending litigation.”
Town Manager Philip Lemnios said that he was deferring any comments on the lawsuit to the school superintendent and School Committee.
No date has yet been set for when the case will be reviewed.