The Everett School Committee voted 7-3 Monday night to place Superintendent Priya Tahiliani on immediate paid administrative leave pending an outside investigation into complaints made by 10 unnamed individuals against her leadership.
But many students and teachers showed their support for Tahiliani at the meeting and some committee members suggested the vote was politically motivated due to tense relations between Tahiliani and school committee leadership over the past year.
The city, led by Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who also sits on the school committee, said it received 10 employee complaints against Tahiliani in September. The redacted complaints included allegations of a retaliatory and hostile work environment, the school committee's lawyer said.
Three school committee members voted against the move, including Sam Lambert. During Monday’s meeting, Lambert asked why the committee was being notified of the complaints a month after the city received the letters. Other members questioned the lack of information about the individuals or their specific allegations.
“This certainly feels like an orchestrated October surprise,” Lambert said, noting that the vote was taking place one week before Everett holds city elections. Seven of the school committee members are on the ballot.
Committee member Jeanne Cristiano raised similar concerns, calling the meeting a “dog and pony show.”
Everett, a suburb north of Boston, serves roughly 7,500 students. The district is comprised of 85% students of color and almost two-thirds identify as Hispanic.
Tahiliani, the daughter of Indian immigrants and Everett’s first superintendent of color, has served in the role since 2020. She received the President's Award in 2022 from the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents for her outstanding service to public education.
This spring, the school committee voted 6-4 not to renew Tahiliani’s contract, which ends in March 2024, despite widespread support for her leadership among parents, students and community members.
A few weeks later, Tahiliani and her deputy, Kim Tsai, filed a federal lawsuit alleging a culture of racism and retaliation at the hands of Mayor DeMaria and his city allies for allegedly halting attempts to diversify district leadership.
In a prepared statement she read at Monday’s meeting, Tahiliani said she is still in the dark about the nature of the complaints and that any investigation into the claims will show she’s been “doing her job and holding EPS staff accountable.”
“This entire process is as unjust as it is unfounded,” she said, to cheers in the room. The Everett school committee said it would meet again later this week to choose an acting superintendent.
Correction: A previous version of the story said the complainants were anonymous. The individuals' names were redacted and unidentified for school committee members.