Retired Marine who was fired as JROTC instructor asks for job back
By PAUL LEIGHTON | The Salem News, Mass. | Published: January 17, 2018
SALEM, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The retired Marine Corps officer who was fired as Salem High School’s Junior ROTC instructor asked the School Committee Tuesday night how he can get his job back.
Unfortunately for Lt. Col. Michael Hunter and the 50 or so people who showed up to support him, that answer was not forthcoming.
Hunter received a standing ovation from the audience at the Collins Middle School after his short speech, but Mayor Kim Driscoll said the School Committee does not have the authority to overturn a school administration decision.
“I feel like we’re in a very awkward position as School Committee members,” said Driscoll, who chairs the committee. “I do know that our administrative staff have tried to figure out a way to have this end differently and has still not been able to come to that kind of a resolution.”
Hunter, 58, was fired on Dec. 8 by Salem High School Principal David Angeramo after an incident on Nov. 21 in which Hunter confronted a student in the hallway, then had a heated argument with an assistant principal over how to discipline the student.
Hunter said the student swore at him after Hunter told him to remove his hoodie. Hunter said he then went “belly to belly” with Assistant Principal Jamie Flynn in Flynn’s office in an argument over discipline.
School officials have refused to comment on the incidents, citing privacy and personnel laws.
In his speech to the School Committee, Hunter acknowledged that he “inappropriately” raised his voice in frustration to Flynn.
“Bottom line, I’m only human,” Hunter said. “I sincerely apologize for my role in all this.”
“I’m just a Marine. A simple man,” Hunter added. “So I’m asking, what can I do to be reinstated?”
Among the people who support Hunter is the student with whom he had the confrontation, according to Michelle O’Shea. O’Shea read a letter to the School Committee that she said was written by the student.
The letter said the student takes responsibility for his inappropriate actions, saying he and Hunter “could have handled it differently.” The student wrote that he was developing a student/mentor relationship with Hunter and called him “a good man with a good heart.”
“Please allow him to come back to Salem High School,” the letter said. O’Shea said after the meeting that she is a neighbor and friend of the student.
School Committee member James Fleming said he was frustrated that committee members did not get more information from the administration on the incidents. Fleming said he spoke with Hunter and reached out to others in an attempt to get the full story.
“I know that there’s another side to this story now,” Fleming said. “I still think outright dismissal is not the right way to go.”
Fleming suggested that Hunter could be suspended without pay for the rest of the year, but return next year.
“I know he’s a military man and that irks people sometimes at the high school,” Fleming said. “He’s gruff. He’s stern. He is overbearing I think. He has a hard time adjusting down to that posture of civilian life at the high school. He tends to stay a Marine in the classroom. He tends to stay a Marine in the corridors. But I’ve talked to him and I think he could make that step forward.”
After the meeting, Hunter said he has hired a lawyer and is hoping to meet with Angeramo in an attempt to get him to change his mind. Hunter said he does not plan to go to court.
“I’m hoping to resolve it at his level,” Hunter said, referring to Angeramo. “I respect him.”
This was the second time in two months that supporters of Hunter showed up a School Committee meeting. About 100 people attended a meeting in December.
There is also an on-line “Bring Back Lt. Col. Michael Hunter” petition, which had 742 signatures as of Tuesday night, as well as a gofundme page to help pay Hunter’s legal costs. The page had raised $550 as of Tuesday night.
Driscoll emphasized that the JROTC program, an elective with an enrollment of 87 students, is continuing without Hunter.
“It’s had a meaningful impact on a lot of lives,” she said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.