An arbitrator has completely reversed Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum’s 60-day suspension of Addelita Cancryn Junior High Principal Lisa Hassell-Forde over money burglarized after the 2017 hurricanes.
Arbitrator Marc Travis also awarded Hassell-Forde back pay and ordered her work record expunged.
An initial investigation determined Hassell-Forde had violated a policy requiring money to be deposited within 48 hours. But testimony from Carver Farrow, principal of another school, supported Hassell-Forde’s contention that this policy was not distributed to her or other principals before the incident. And Travis found Hassell-Forde followed the procedures outlined in the Education Department’s manual, which she did have.
A criminal investigation previously exonerated her.
“I found that the evidence is not supported by probable cause to take any action,” V.I. Attorney General Claude Walker said in April 2018. “The facts and circumstances are insufficient to cause a reasonable person to believe that a criminal offense has occurred. The matter is, at this time, closed.”
Police reports indicate that Hassell-Forde reported the money missing on Sept. 27, after she returned to the school and saw that her office had been burglarized.
In the report, the junior high principal said she had been told by a campus workman that five men had climbed around the back window of the office building, which she said she had secured the week before.
Thomas found that Forde was improperly not allowed a full opportunity to participate in her own defense and that the penalty was imposed without sufficient investigation, despite a record of the investigators calling for more investigation.
“The evidence fails to establish a clear and convincing basis” for the suspension, that there “was no material violation of the manual shown, and the record is insufficient to conclude Dr. Forde was on notice of the requirements set forth in the policy at the time of the alleged misconduct, if indeed those requirements had been implemented and distributed to personnel at the time,” Thomas concluded.
Hassell-Forde’s attorney Ravi Nagi praised the arbitrator’s decision.
“My client is overjoyed that she was vindicated against all the forces that lined up against her without a shred of evidence to suspect she committed any wrongdoing. … This was a personal and political vendetta gone wrong from the beginning,” Nagi said in a statement Saturday.
“The damage to Dr. Hassell-Forde’s professional reputation has already been done by those forces, but this ruling will help repair the years of suspicion and the multitude of falsehoods that were publicly directed at her by Department of Education supervisors, politicians, and other prominent community members who spoke prior to the facts being presented,” Nagi said.