Superintendent addresses hiring of transgendered teacher

Tonya Thomas, formerly Thomas Shannon Daniels

SWAMPSCOTT — The town's superintendent of schools sent a letter to families on Wednesday to address what she called "inaccurate perceptions" about the appointment of a transgendered teacher.

Superintendent Pamela Angelakis said she has received several communications regarding new Clarke School fourth-grade teacher Tonya Thomas. Thomas was formerly known as Thomas Daniels and was the principal at the Stanley School. Angelakis indicated she had responded individually to those communications but wanted to generally address the issue as well.

Daniels came out as transgender last year and left the Stanley School when Daniels' contract was not renewed. In October, Daniels reached an agreement with the school district that allowed Daniels to return as an elementary school teacher.

In her letter, Angelakis said the district is limited in the information it can provide and cannot address "every hearsay, allegation and rumor." But Angelakis said she would address one "rumor," about the subject matter of grievances filed by the teachers' union against Thomas as principal.

Angelakis said the grievances largely concerned teacher evaluation and observation procedures and an "alleged communication issue."

"Rumors that these grievances involved other far different issues are simply untrue and unfounded," she wrote. "Notably, none of these grievances proceeded to arbitration or litigation in an way. Spreading gossip and false rumors simply does not assist anyone in the Swampscott School District, especially the students."

Daniels announced he was transgender in February 2018 and said he was transitioning to Shannon Daniels. The announcement drew support from Angelakis, including a letter citing Daniels' "courage, honesty and transparency." But it also drew a flurry of media coverage and apparent push-back from some in the community.

In a message to parents at the time, Angelakis said Daniels had received "hurtful" messages. Daniels was placed on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the school year.

That March, Angelakis announced that Daniels' contract would not be renewed. Angelakis said she could not comment on the reasons for the decision because it was a personnel matter.

In October, Angelakis announced an agreement that would allow Daniels to return as an elementary school teacher in the 2019-2020 school year. The agreement called for Daniels to receive a $90,000 lump sum payment, including legal fees and other costs, and avoided a lawsuit over Daniels' contract not being renewed.

In her letter on Wednesday, Angelakis said the safety of students and staff is her "highest priority." She asked families to understand that the district is not intentionally trying to conceal information, but is limited in what it can say regarding personnel matters.

"We are simply operating in a manner that is first and foremost respectful to the rights of all," she wrote.

Angelakis noted that Thomas intends to use a non-gender title of Mx., pronounced "mix."

Neither Angelakis or Thomas immediately responded to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.