(Photo by John Cook) Todd Barraco, a Vassar Police Department officer, holds Garth, a therapy dog, in this 2019 photo. Barraco was hired by Vassar Public Schools later that year as an assistant principal, but claims he was fired from that job earlier this year, alleging the school district discriminated against him and breached his employment contract.

Former assistant principal, a Vassar officer, sues schools

A former Vassar Public Schools administrator claims he was fired due to accusations made against him because he’s a man, and because he reported students engaging in illegal activities at school.

Todd Barraco, a Vassar Police Department officer who also worked for the school district, alleges he was fired effective June 30 from his job as an assistant principal/dean of students.

Barraco, in an Aug. 4 lawsuit filed in Tuscola County Circuit Court, alleges Vassar Superintendent Dorothy “Dot” Blackwell made allegations against him that would not have been made “if (Barraco) were not a man and that they evince an anti-male animus.”

Blackwell declined comment on his allegations, stating in an email to The Advertiser that “At the advice of our counsel the District does not comment on pending litigation.”

The lawsuit claims Blackwell recommended Barraco’s firing and alleges she accused him of “failure to establish a positive professional relationship with students.”

Complaints made against Barraco by school district officials, according to court documents, allege he “goes into cop mode,” “treats people like hardened criminals” and is “egotistical, chauvinistic and appears to look down on female staff at times.”

School officials also accused Barraco of creating “an environment of fear of retaliation within the school, and outside the school environment because of his role as a local police officer,” according to the lawsuit.

Barraco continues working as a Vassar police officer. His lawsuit claims the school district informed him that he was hired last year, in part, “because he could serve in a dual role as a police officer and assistant principal.”

The lawsuit states the school district bought a gun safe for Barraco’s office at the school, and had the safe installed to allow Barraco to respond as a police officer “if a situation arose on campus requiring such gear.”

Barraco claims Blackwell denied his request to “be given an opportunity to seek training” to change his behavior to satisfy the school district.

Barraco states he received an annual salary of $60,000 as assistant principal/dean of students for grades 6-12, starting the job Aug. 14, 2019. He claims the school district breached its contract because the contract didn’t contain a provision allowing him to be fired “for any reason, just or unjust” prior to the June 30, 2021 expiration of the contract.

The lawsuit, brought by Barraco’s attorney – Bingham Farms lawyer Scott P. Batey – states the school board was scheduled to vote March 31 on firing Barraco, but the board meeting was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barraco, however, claims school district leaders later “rebranded” his firing as a “layoff due to budgetary constraints” after his attorney informed school leaders they would violate the law and commit a breach of contract by firing him.

Barraco, in his capacity as a Vassar police officer and during his tenure as assistant principal, states he “ticketed at least eight students.” Two students were ticketed for illegally vaping at school, according to the lawsuit, which alleges the school district retaliated against Barraco by firing him due to complaints made against him for his reports of crimes or suspected crimes by students.

School district resident Lindsay Beach told the Vassar school board at a Dec. 10, 2019, meeting that Barraco and his therapy dog, Garth, were problems in Vassar’s schools.

“I’m asking for you guys to look at who you have in this school – somebody who’s bringing a dog around that’s biting kids and teachers,” Beach told the board.

Following the Dec. 10 meeting, Barraco told The Advertiser that Garth, a chocolate Labrador retriever, “has not bitten anybody.” He claims the Vassar Police Department has dealt with Beach several times due to problems caused by her own dog.

Barraco’s lawsuit states Blackwell alleged the dog bit a teacher, though Barraco claims he “promptly investigated and took corrective action to prevent further issues.”

Blackwell, according to the lawsuit, accused Barraco of “failure to provide adequate and appropriate control of his dog.”

Barraco states in his lawsuit that the school district hired Recon Management Group L.L.C. to investigate him.

The lawsuit indicates the dog also was accused of nipping at a student in Vassar’s Central Elementary School. But Barraco claims the principal and a teacher at that school weren’t aware of any incident involving the dog until someone made the allegation after Beach leveled accusations against him.

Before Barraco took the Vassar assistant principal’s job, he worked as dean of students at Akron-Fairgrove Junior/Senior High School, where Garth – then a puppy – accompanied him around the school.

The lawsuit claims Recon Management Group L.L.C. found that most complaints about Barraco from parents “come from people that have had contact with Mr. Barraco as a police officer and now carry their frustrations into the school.”

Recon Management Group’s report also stated “people have also stated that (Barraco) has developed relationships with troubled kids, and seems to help some at times,” according to the lawsuit.

Beach, at the December 2019 Vassar board meeting, gave board members copies of documents bearing a Merrill Community Schools letterhead, from 2016, outlining allegations against Barraco when he was a Merrill principal.

The documents specify the Merrill district considered not renewing or terminating Barraco’s contract for seven reasons, including alleged unethical behavior, poor sportsmanship and being a “poor example/role model for student athletes.”

Barraco told The Advertiser the accusations made against him in Merrill “were all proven wrong.” He said that although he resigned as a Merrill principal in 2016, the school district “gave me a highly effective rating as principal before I left,” and gave him a letter of recommendation.

Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com.

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