BOE reassigning Naugatuck High associate principal

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Andreas Yilma And Elio Gugliotti, Citizen’s News

Johnna Hunt

NAUGATUCK — An independent investigation concluded there was no evidence that Naugatuck High School associate principal Johnna Hunt “harbored or expressed racial bias or racist views,” but she will not be returning to her role at the high school.

The Board of Education announced Wednesday that Hunt, who has been on leave since late January after racially charged social media posts made by her daughter surfaced on social media, will be reinstated Monday.

Hunt, who has worked in the school district for 21 years, will be assigned to the central office and work remotely on special assignment for the rest of this school year. As of July 1, the board announced Hunt will be reassigned as the principal of Hillside Intermediate School, a position she held from 2009 to 2020.

Even though the report found no evidence of racial bias or racist views, school officials raised concerns that Hunt couldn’t be effective as the high school’s associate principal under the circumstances.

Attorney George Mowad, who represents Hunt, said she is willing to comply with what the school board and administration thinks is in the best interest of the school community.

“As far as the move goes, I understand the reason for the move,” Mowad said. “As far as the Board of Education’s view of things, I don’t necessarily think it’s needed, but I understand.”

(The report is available on the Board of Education’s website.)

Giovanni Testani is the principal at Hillside Intermediate School. Superintendent Christopher Montini said Testani is a valued member of the district and officials are working with the administrators union to determine her next role.

“Ms. Testani will remain employed as an administrator in the Naugatuck Public Schools,” Montini said.

The school board hired the law firm Berchem Moses PC to do the investigation of Hunt after screenshots of Snapchat posts made by Hunt’s daughter surfaced on social media in January. The posts, which included racist and violent language, were shared as private messages with another teenager, who shared them on social media this year.

The posts were made around the time Hunt’s husband, Steven Hunt, was sworn in as Naugatuck police chief in March 2019.

One of the posts read, “I’ll make my dad drive with lights and sirens and if we see any black people we will shoot them.”

The investigation focused on whether Hunt exhibited any racial biases or engaged in discriminatory race-based conduct as an administrator. It included a review of Hunt’s social media accounts. The firm also interviewed Hunt, Montini, Hillside Intermediate administrator assistant Ralph Roper, Naugatuck High principal John Harris, and Naugatuck High deans of student life James Leary and Brian Mariano.

The investigation concluded that while some members of the community may speculate that Hunt’s daughter was exposed to racism by her mother, “there was no evidence that Ms. Hunt has ever harbored or expressed racial bias or racist views. There was also no evidence that Ms. Hunt ever treated anyone in the workplace differently because of race.”

“I’m happy with the results of the report. I expected those to be the results,” Mowad said. “I think the findings are correct in that Johnna Hunt is not a racist.”

The report states that Hunt has been involved in implementing and has been supportive of equity initiatives. Montini stated in the report that as a principal, Hunt was inclusive in the structures she created for student council as well as parent government.

However, Harris and Montini raised concerns about Hunt returning to her job at Naugatuck High.

Harris said that some teachers and students have expressly stated that they do not feel safe in the building with her as associate principal, the report states. He said if Hunt returned it would “destroy” his and the superintendent’s credibility that they were trying to listen to and learn from those who were hurt by the posts.

Harris told the law firm that some staff would resign, and he couldn’t involve Hunt in student discipline because students have said they feel unsafe around her and there would be a concern of bias.

The report states that Montini expressed “concerns of a general nature” as to how Hunt could continue to be effective in her role under the circumstances.

Hunt stated she did not have any concerns about returning and did not think that this incident would hinder her abilities, the report states.

Board of Education Chairman Jeffrey Litke said school officials have reviewed the report and accept the investigation’s findings.

“We will continue to do the work that needs to be done in order to heal and grow,” Litke said. “NPS is committed to fostering an environment that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion.”