Updated: Haverhill School Admin. Orders Outspoken Staffer Off the Property; Marotta Responds

Chief Academic Officer Darshan Thakkar addresses the Haverhill School Committee in 2018. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The Haverhill school administrator who spoke out against what he believed was a lack of respect was ordered today to return any city property and not step on school property—a step school leadership says is “standard procedure and policy.”

Chief Academic Officer Darshan Thakkar, who expected his last day to be a week from tomorrow, says he discovered access to his school log-ins was taken away early this morning. After being called to a meeting in City Hall, he says, he was ordered to return his laptop, iPad and keys and banned from school property.

“Given what has happened in the last 24 hours, we feel it is best that you aren’t around,” says Thakkar, quoting schools’ Human Resources Director John O’Connor and Human Resources Coordinator Sandra McArthur.

In a response this afternoon, the School Department says it followed standard procedures when dealing with a “disgruntled employee,” especially one with access to student information.

“We became aware last night through various media outlets that Dr. Thakkar was a disgruntled employee. Given the fact that he has access to sensitive information for over 8,000 students, we felt it would be prudent to shut down his access to the school district’s computer system until we had a chance to speak with him.”

After confirming yesterday that he has accepted a job as Framingham’s assistant director of secondary education Sept. 16, Thakkar went on to explain his reasons for accepting a lower paying job.

“For the last year, with all the changes, it became quite apparent since the beginning of last year, more and more my contributions were no longer welcome, my expertise wasn’t valued and my presence wasn’t desired,” Thakkar told WHAV.

Lacking access to Google Drive, Thakkar says, could cause an interruption in the delivery of school services. Without access, he explains, he cannot fulfill his promise to Superintendent Margaret Marotta to detail information about pending projects or action steps that must be taken.

Thakkar told WHAV he knew something was amiss shortly after 6 this morning when he went to check his phone from home for any important emails or texts. He said he was prompted for a password, but his credentials weren’t accepted. He says he switched to his computer and discovered the same problem. He then learned his Google Drive, where important school documents are stored, also wasn’t accessible. “It became apparent my account was no longer working. Strange, this early in the morning.”

At 9 a.m., he received a call to report to O’Connor. At the meeting, Thakkar says, O’Connor confirmed access to all accounts had been terminated. He was also told not to collect his personal belongings in his Crowell School office, but that they would be packed for him and returned next week.

In her statement, Superintendent Margaret Marotta gave the department’s version of events.

“Our human resources staff arrived at Crowell School, Dr. Thakkar’s place of work, at 8 a.m., which is Dr. Thakkar’s scheduled arrival time. By 9 a.m., he had yet to show up for work, so HR contacted him by phone. Dr. Thakkar informed HR staff that the earliest he could meet with them was 11:30 a.m. Given Dr. Thakkar’s resignation and clear dissatisfaction with his employment situation, we thought it was best to allow him to complete his employment responsibilities effective immediately. This is standard procedure and policy for a disgruntled employee with access to sensitive and secure information.”

Thakkar says he had hoped to have time to say proper goodbyes to staff, but will try to meet with individuals off school property. He will be paid through the end of next week and is entitled to receive about two weeks’ worth of unused vacation pay.

Thakkar joined Haverhill Schools in 2004—first as a Haverhill High School math teacher, then as assistant principal at Consentino School in 2013 and promoted to chief academic officer in 2016. Shortly after his promotion, however, School Committee members singled out Thakkar for a two-year contract extension, while giving two others three-year contracts.

His position was carved up a year ago and shared with former Haverhill High School Principal Beth Kitsos. Thakkar says attitudes toward him changed with the Marotta’s arrival. He told WHAV he believes Kitsos was moved from the high school simply to create a position for Marotta’s former Salem, Mass., associate Glenn Burns. Thakkar’s job once covered grades K-8, but was reduced to elementary grades when Kitsos was also appointed as a chief academic officer.

“In practice, it was impossible to serve in bifurcated roles because there was so much overlap in duties. It wasn’t a well thought out move.”

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