School officials in Chicopee placed Superintendent Lynn Clark on paid leave Wednesday night and have formally asked her to resign from her position after she was arrested by federal agents that morning.
Chicopee Mayor and School Committee Chairman John Vieau said officials were “blindsided” by the news of her arrest and allegations that Clark lied to FBI agents who were investigating a series of threatening text messages sent to a Chicopee police officer who was vying to become chief.
“We found out this morning and were shocked that our superintendent of schools has been arrested for falsifying information to the FBI,” Vieau said during a school committee meeting Wednesday night. “This is disappointing and disheartening, this whole situation, for our schools in our district and for the city of Chicopee.”
Clark was placed on paid leave effective immediately following an 8-3 vote by the school committee. Assistant Superintendent Alvin Morton will take over as acting superintendent, according to a recording of the meeting.
In November, a Chicopee police officer vying to become chief received a flurry of anonymous text messages, threatening to damage his reputation if he didn’t withdraw his application, court records show. Some messages, he would later tell FBI agents, included private material that he had shared with only one person: Clark.
She was arrested and charged with lying to FBI agents when she allegedly denied sending the texts and pretended that she had received similar warnings from unknown numbers, according to an FBI affidavit filed in court.
One message she claimed to receive included a picture of the officer and his wife at a wedding that he kept locked in his office, the officer told investigators.
Though the affidavit refers to the candidate who received the text messages as Individual 1, a source familiar with the investigation said it was a Chicopee police officer. Investigators did not say how Clark and the officer know each other.
In an interview with investigators, Clark, 51, initially said she received the wedding picture, as well as a picture of the officer driving her car through a tollbooth, from an unknown sender. But investigators determined she was the source of 99 threatening text messages to the officer, his wife, and herself, using a “burner app” to conceal her identity.
Initially, Clark attempted to cast suspicion on other city employees and a member of her family, according to the affidavit, but later admitted to the bizarre, elaborate scheme, telling investigators that the officer “had achieved many accomplishments based on [her] work” and she wanted to see him “knocked down a peg.”
Clark was released on bail Wednesday following an appearance in US District Court in Springfield.
In a matter of hours, school committee members were assembled for their regular meeting Wednesday night and were trying to put the day’s events into perspective.
School Committee member David Barsalou said Clark’s arrest has “placed a huge dark cloud over the city.”
“I just hope tonight we can start the healing process so we can move on because I agree with my colleagues that we have to do what’s best for our kids,” he said. “The schools were built for the kids and we have to make sure that they get the best of everything regardless of situations that are out of their control.”
Morton, now in the role of acting superintendent, called the news “devastating” and tried to assure parents, students, and faculty that school operations will not be interrupted.
“I just want to reassure families that our priority continues to be providing a safe and secure environment for teaching and learning to continue in our schools,” Morton said at the meeting, shortly before a vote was taken to place Clark on paid administrative leave.
There was some discussion among members and the committee’s lawyer over whether to continue paying Clark her salary while she is on leave.
The committee ultimately decided to keep her on paid leave, on the advice of their attorney, as the legal process begins and it may revisit the question at future meetings.
“As long as she goes into court and pleads not guilty, that affords her certain rights under the law, as much as I hate it [because] I’d love for her to be on unpaid leave right now,” said committee member Timothy Wagner. “She made a disgrace of the school district and that’s no small deal. ... [Our attorney] has advised us until we have an indictment that the leave should be paid. It’s unfortunate but that’s the reality and we can be sued if we put her on unpaid leave. Do we want to be paying several years of salary and compensation for that? I don’t think so.”
Globe staff reporters Shelley Murphy and Travis Andersen contributed to this report.