Ex-shop teacher sues school, says he was fired after identifying safety violations in woodshop

A former shop teacher has sued the high school where he used to work, saying he was fired after pointing out safety violations in its woodshop.

Keegan Day of Pomfret was hired in June to teach woodworking at Norwich Free Academy.

According to his federal lawsuit filed last month, Day complained to school officials in September about conditions in its Wood Technology Room.

Among other things, he said, he found the shop had no ventilation system, was missing safety guards on numerous machines, had table saws that faced students' seats and had inadequate safety buffer zones around machines.

He said he also told superiors that he was concerned the students were using wood finisher in the room and were breathing in toxic fumes.

Day alleges that shortly after receiving a positive teaching evaluation in October, he met with school officials about the problems in the shop and received a hostile response.

He says he was asked why he was raising the concerns at that time. David Klien, the head of the school said, "You know this is going to cost the school at least $200,000," according to the lawsuit.

Klien and other officials did not return several calls seeking comment. An assistant said Klien was traveling in Washington, D.C., and would not be available to respond until Monday.

According to the lawsuit, after meeting with Day, the school hired a safety consultant who conducted a mock safety inspection. The inspectors found numerous federal safety violations and recommended the school shut down the shop because it was "an unsafe working/learning environment with a number of very serious safety compliance hazards for both students and employees."

Day said a week after the inspection, he was called into a meeting with the school's principal and received a critical performance review. He said he was forced to sign a letter of resignation in November after being told that if he didn't sign it, he would "never work as a teacher again."

The academy is a private secondary school but also serves as a public school choice for students from Norwich and a number of surrounding towns. It has an enrollment of more than 2,300, according to its website.

Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said the agency hasn't received any complaints about Norwich Free Academy and hasn't inspected the facility.

The lawsuit, originally filed in state court and moved last month to U.S. District Court, seeks the reinstatement of Day as a teacher and unspecified monetary damages.