Ed. Note: At his hearing Sept. 5, Vic Hogfeldt was not allowed to make a statement. He requested it be published.
Ladies and gentlemen, today is the first day of my life in which I am ashamed to say that I am a Westie. Please make no mistake about this. What has been done to me over the past two years is the product of the collaboration of a corrupt teachers’ union and an unaccountable and vindictive schools’ superintendent, Mr. Neil C. Cavallaro. True to his mentor, late West Haven political boss Harold Allen, Cavallaro has attempted to run our school system with lies, fear, ignorance, and intimidation. With all sincerity, I ask each of you reading this: Is there anyone left in West Haven who honestly believes that Mr. Cavallaro should be allowed to continue in his job as superintendent?
Most sadly for me personally, over the past eight months, has been the realization that West Haven Democratic Party and Board of Education Chairman James Morrissey, a man I have long considered a friend, has fallen in with Mr. Cavallaro and conspired with him to purposely deny me my right to a public board termination hearing.
Instead, a phony arbitration was contrived and foisted upon me by Mr. Cavallaro and the Board. Chairman Morrissey was informed by me at least as far back as Jan. 15 of this year, and on numerous other subsequent occasions, of my desire to have a public board termination hearing. Likewise, members of the Board were similarly informed, both personally and by US mail, of my desire for a board hearing. On Monday June 12 I met with Mayor Ed O’Brien. We discussed this issue in his office, he agreed to support my request for a board hearing, we reviewed my written notes of this meeting, we shook hands, and these notes were sent to Chairman Morrissey the next day. Every single contact I made with West Haven officials and Board members concerning this matter can be documented, produced, and will be sworn to by me under oath.
I also published several letters written by me to the Board concerning this matter in the West Haven Voice. This was necessary because of Mr. Cavallaro’s long history of deception and concealment of information from the Board of Education. Several Board members had told me personally that they only knew what was going on in the school system when they were privately informed by individual teachers. That’s why I had to utilize the Voice. Without being facetious, I could not have been more explicit and emphatic in my rejection of an arbitration to all concerned had I hired an airplane to fly over West Haven every day for the past eight months with this banner streaming from its tail —- “VIC HOGFELDT WANTS A PUBLIC BOARD TERMINATION HEARING!!!”
At a May 3 meeting in City Hall, my original attorney made clear to Board Attorney Floyd Dugas that we were objecting to an arbitration. There was some initial confusion on my part with regard to the purpose of that meeting, because it was described to me by my original attorney only as “some kind of meeting” no more than an hour or so from start time. A lady who I later found out was Arbitrator Laurie Cain was also present at this meeting. Board Attorney Dugas claimed at this meeting that “the Board had selected a hearing officer” [for me]. My original attorney made clear that he was retiring for “medical reasons.”
The nature of his illness had required me to engage a new attorney, which we were in the process of “bringing up to speed” on my case. This was a sensitive issue because my original attorney appeared to be suffering from some form of dementia, which both he and his family acknowledged as they scrambled to turn his cases over to other lawyers.
As someone whose own father had passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease only a few years earlier, I struggled to handle this situation in a way which would retain the dignity of Leon and his wonderful family while maintaining my own legal prerogatives. It appeared to me that others were attempting to take advantage of this tragic situation. Early in June I asked Chairman Morrissey for a face-to-face sit-down so I could explain Leon’s situation and my concerns to him. On Saturday July 1 I described my quandary in detail to Chairman Morrissey and asked him if I could speak with the Board in executive session about this situation without speaking about the merits of my case. Chairman Morrissey’s lack of response to my pleas was deafening. The fix was in. All of these communications are documented.
While I was attempting to inform the Board about what was going on, I received a threatening letter from Mr. Cavallaro on June 14 ordering me to “cease and desist” from contacting Board members under penalty of an additional charge of insubordination being added to my original termination notice. Cavallaro soon made good on his threat. What appears to have been going on here all along is that the superintendent was trying to finagle an arbitration past the Board without arousing my attention.
On July 12 I sent a letter to Arbitrator Laurie Cain respectfully outlining my objections to the upcoming arbitration and her designation as a hearing officer. I told her that I believed this to be an illegitimate process to which I had never consented. I attempted to delicately explain the issue of my original attorney’s oncoming dementia, and its nullifying impact on the issue of consent. This letter was also sent to each Board member, again arousing Mr. Cavallaro’s ire. When I told Ms. Cain in a July 19 e-mail that I would not be participating in her arbitration, I received a threat, “failing to participate in the process will be done at your peril,” accompanied by a schedule of fees for her services. Apparently, I was being asked to give her a bank check for at least $5000 for the privilege of defending myself. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a name for this.
Jim, I have known your family for many years as you have known mine, and I believed I could trust you. Back in the old neighborhood, all of us were a little rough around the edges growing up, but we were never mean and we didn’t tolerate bullies. We never took advantage of those who could not defend themselves and we didn’t stab our friends in the back. We were not Cavallaro. What happened? This is not the West Haven any of us grew up in.
Let me be very clear to all West Haven taxpayers reading this: The reason this process of my termination has dragged on for so long and has been so costly to all concerned is because of the devious behavior of Mr. Cavallaro and his helpers, activities which will be shown to have been in violation of my rights under the US Constitution and as a teacher under state law. This entire matter could have been wrapped up months ago if my right to a board hearing under the statute had been honored. I am requesting that Mr. Bill Riccio of the West Haven Voice and Mr. Mark Zaretsky of the New Haven Register demand a public accounting from Superintendent Cavallaro of the financial costs incurred by the school system thus far in attempting to railroad a teacher out of his job.
Let me also be clear about another issue: In any civil action going forward, the activities of WHHS Principal Pam Gardner and of Assistant Principal John DellaCamera will necessarily receive particular scrutiny. Those who bear false witness against others in an attempt to create harmful narratives must be held accountable. Also, Board member Pat Libero must not be permitted to vote on my termination, since her niece is specifically named in my ongoing harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed in Superior Court last year. Finally, we are prepared to demonstrate in court with documented evidence that the West Haven Board of Education knew for several years that Superintendent Cavallaro was using administrators in the school system to illegally harass and attack teachers who disagreed with him on policy issues. And they did absolutely nothing to stop it.
Allow me to draw everyone’s attention to the Aug. 16 New Haven Register article attached to this statement. Please read it carefully. This is the sort of stuff that has been going on in the school system under Cavallaro for the past five years, especially since a coordinated assault began against the Tech Ed Department at the high school. Both Principal Gardner and Assistant Principal John DellaCamera had a heavy hand in harassing and attacking the department head and the teachers in Tech Ed, illegal activities aided and abetted by the union. Two teachers were forced to resign under duress after outrageous claims were made against them. At the Highway Department, Mr. Harwood was accused of washing his truck at a city facility. As a teacher in the high school, I was accused of stealing a cup of tea from the cafeteria and escorted to Principal Gardner’s office by the police. Then, union VP Lynn Bonaldo arranged for this tea-stealing accusation to be put in the newspaper to make me look like a thief.
After a campaign of harassment, which intensified after I stopped the imposition of block scheduling (BS) in the high school, Principal Gardner and her managers decided to attack my integrity as a teacher by putting me on a “support program,” with predictable results. This was done with the full cooperation of the teachers’ union, as we are prepared to demonstrate in court. Other teachers resigned before getting this far. I stood and fought. So here we are.
Please allow me to say a few words about Alzheimer’s Disease as it applies to our current situation. My late father was a man who grew up on Brown Street in our city. He was a graduate of our high school, a World War II combat veteran, and a graduate of Yale University with a master’s degree. Like many dying from this illness, he had moments of clarity followed by days and weeks of confusion and silence. A few year’s ago, as he languished in a Bridgeport hospital bed suffering the final stages of that illness, he said a few words to me which I will never forget: He told me, “It’s not just the things you do in your life that are important. It’s the things you WOULDN’T do.” A few weeks later he uttered his last words to me: “I want to go home.” And then he passed. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, some people WILL do anything to get what they want.
At this point in any statement by a teacher about to be fired, the teacher is supposed to say a few words about how much he “loves the kids” and “loves his job,” etc. You’re not gonna get that crap from me. This isn’t a retirement dinner and I’m not resigning.
In a week or two I will be setting up a “GoFundMe” site to help pay my legal bills. The teachers I work with are scared but they’re not stupid. They know that my case will go a long way towards removing Mr. Cavallaro, the least respected and most personally disliked superintendent in the history of our troubled school system.
See you in court.