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Update: Maine DHHS, Oxford County Sheriff investigating MSAD 17 superintendent

Teachers allege Superintendent Monica Henson inappropriately physically restrained a child.

PARIS, Maine — The superintendent of the Oxford Hills School Department is being investigated by state and county officials after allegations were made that she inappropriately physically restrained a child.

The Maine Education Association told NEWS CENTER Maine on Tuesday that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Oxford County Sheriff's Office are investigating the alleged incident at Agnes Gray Elementary School.

"According to educators at Agnes Gray, the Oxford County Sherriff's Office was at the school today and interviewed five educators as part of the investigation into the allegations against the Superintendent who is accused of assaulting a student. Officials with DHHS were also at the school today conducting their own investigation," said Giovanna Bechard, a spokesperson for the Maine Education Association.

Ashley Rowe is the mother of an 11-year-old student at Agnes Gray Elementary School. Rowe said that in early September she got an email from the superintendent about a food fight involving her son.

Rowe said Superintendent Henson told her she restrained her son. Still, the mother didn't think there was much else to it until local news outlets started reporting on the district's ongoing issues.

"I realized in the news article that they were talking about my child," she told NEWS CENTER Maine in an interview.

Rowe said her son and teachers at the school told her that Henson allegedly pulled both her child's arms, but he eventually got away.

"She grabbed him by the arm again and dug her fingernails into his arm," Rowe added.

Three teachers said they witnessed this incident.

"He struggled. They both struggled. They got up. [Henson] grabbed him by both arms and started pulling him into the office, and when he got away at this point, I said, 'What are you doing?'" Brenda Parent, an education technician at Agnes Gray Elementary School, said.

The Oxford Hills teachers union brought these concerns to the school board last week, and when there wasn't a resolution, those three educators, Karin Puiia, Brenda Parent, and another educator who asked to not be named, filed a complaint with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have been terrified, terrified for ourselves, for our jobs [and] for our students," said Puiia, who said she witnessed the incident. 

Henson said she has not been officially told about this report but heard through the "rumor mill." The superintendent said she was surprised by the report.

"This incident occurred 4 1/2 months ago," Henson said. "When I reported to our chief student service officer and requested how to proceed on how to report the restraint, she didn't see a need to file a report with DHHS."

Rowe said she filed a police report after hearing from teachers who allegedly saw it happen. The Oxford County Sheriff's Office would not confirm or deny such a report.

For now, Rowe said she doesn't want Henson near her child.

"I want her at least put on leave until the investigation is over," she said.

Henson worked as interim principal at Agnes Gray Elementary School the day of the incident because the regular principal was out. 

Parents and community members are outraged by the alleged incident and said it's not the only issue they've had since Henson started in July. 

Some community members are expected to gather at Oxford Hills High School on Saturday for a peaceful protest.

Monday night, teachers and parents attended the Oxford Hills school board meeting to voice their concerns. 

"Have her resign, cut her losses and find something else," Sue Parsons said. "I think she would make a good prison warden."

The tense meeting was filled with testimony from concerned residents and staffers alleging wrongdoing by Henson.

"When I got a phone call saying my son was involved in this incident," one parent said. "I'd be in jail right now. It's called assault. And everybody, I'm sorry my opinion, that's sitting up there, is called an accessory to assault on a minor."

Henson defended herself in the meeting, placing a lot of blame on a former principal for ongoing issues at the elementary school. 

"The principal made the decision to go on leave, and I knew this was going to [be] traumatic on staff, and I also knew of the instability of the administrative running of the school," she said. "And I'm not saying Agnes Grey Elementary School wasn't deeply loved by students and parents, but as an administrator, it was deeply mismanaged."

The school board overwhelmingly rejected Henson's recommendation to appoint interim principal Catherine Bickford to the position permanently. 

Members then went into a closed-door meeting to further evaluate Henson herself. That executive session went late into the night.

It is still unclear what the board will do moving forward. 

Maine DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell said two complaints were filed regarding the incident, and it is under investigation.

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