There’s a war going on in Hartford’s Public School District. Several neighborhoods schools are slated to shut down despite persistent parental and community opposition. Governor Dannel Malloy must close a $1.7 billion budget deficit which will result in inevitable funding reductions to education. Malloy has proposed to reduce education aid to wealthier towns in a conscientious effort to redistribute those funds to needy urban school districts. This decision comes against the backdrop of an age old controversial conversation of whether the wealthier towns should fund poor urban districts even if its schools are consistently failing.
Even the most ardent supporters of the “redistribution of wealth formula” cannot deny that funding dysfunctional school models and funding persistently failing schools has created a fiscal nightmare that even the most skilled actuaries would have a difficult time finding a solution to. There simply aren’t enough students to meet the capacity requirements of the school buildings, yet more schools are slated to be built. Charter schools, magnets schools, neighborhood schools all pull from the same funding sources, which is not only a failed initiative but has created a financial burden on the city, the state, and even the federal government. Yet we continue to do the same thing, expecting different results; Einstein’s formula for insanity.
In the middle of this mess, Dr. Beth Schivano Narvaez, Superintendent of the Hartford School district decides to abandon the ship in arguably the worst crisis in Hartford’s public school history to accept her “dream job” to lead a U.S. government education initiative in Korea and Japan. Her fellow board members, including the chair, Attorney Richard Wareing did not remind her of her inaugural and assuring promises that she vowed when she accepted the more than $250,000.00 annual position that she would faithfully serve the children and families of the City of Hartford. Instead, everyone gave her a well-wishing send off, during a bloody war in our school district. No one held her accountable.
On Friday, February 10, 2017, amidst these dire concerns, the Office of The Child Advocate for the State of Connecticut released a 76-page report of findings regarding compliance of Hartford Public Schools with State Laws Regarding Mandated Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect. What did they find? They discovered that for more than a decade there has been compounded reports of neglect and abusive behavior toward Hartford’s children. This report was sparked by the tip from human rights activist and child advocate Dr. Aaron Lewis concerning alleged sexually implicit behavior between a high-ranking Hartford Public School administrator, Eduardo “Eddie” Genao who subsequently resigned and was arrested on a felony, Risk of Injury to a child for sending sexually explicit text messages to a 13-year-old child.
The recently appointed, since December 9, 2016 acting superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, has been given the challenge to respond to this report and these multiple abuses many of which began, while she was a college student at UCONN. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez has fortuitously and continually stated that she will do all that she can to deal with this issue, even to the point of admonishing teachers and school staff that if they “see something” and fail to “say something” they will be held accountable. While, I believe wholeheartedly that Dr. Torres-Rodriguez has the best interest of Hartford’s children at heart, I also see a bloody yet familiar handwriting on these walls, one of which she may not be aware.
When this crime involving Genao was initially committed, Dr. Torres-Rodriguez was not the interim superintendent, and did not have any authority to reprimand high ranking employees. However, Rich Wareing, the board chair, a local attorney and partner at his firm, was fully aware of these allegations as he was given a tip 13 days before things turned criminal, yet chose not to respond or take any solid action to prove to Hartford’s constituents that the safety of the children was his primary concern. Instead, Wareing deflected and abrogated his responsibility by ignoring the email, apologizing for not seeing the email, and then continuing to cover-up the then Superintendent and her appointed chief of staff, Dr. Gislaine Ngounou for their neglect.
The bloody trail continues. Now, “the system” has used a familiar tactic of shifting the blame from whom it squarely belongs to implicate bystanders, to once again cover up their decades-long crimes of child abuse. The system has chosen scapegoat, Dr. Torres-Rodriguez to lead this army as its Commander in Chief, in a bloody war that includes the teachers, the parents, and the ultimate casualties—the children. No one seems to ask the obvious question, why is Dr. Torres-Rodriguez responding to any of these concerns? She was unaware of these reports? When the United States House of Representatives held the Benghazi hearings, President Barack Obama didn’t speak to the matter at all. Secretary Hillary Clinton spoke to the matter as it was her responsibility as Secretary of State to answer for the lives of those lost. That is called accountability.
Neither the two-time board chair, or any board member until now has publicly said one word about the allegations concerning Eddie Genao. Yet, they’ve cleverly chosen Dr. Torres-Rodriguez to become the sacrificial lamb to cover decades of systemic corruption at the Hartford Board of Education, an evil yet clever move. As a scripted speaker, she continues to urge teachers and staff to “report, report, report.” Yet, it is crystal clear that proper reporting has never been the real issue at all. There is no lack in reporting incidents or even filing reports for that matter. If people weren’t reporting there would not be a 76-page report of findings from the OCA. So then, dozens if not hundreds of people are reporting. Dr. Aaron Lewis reported on Eddie Genao.
Watch what happened. Instead of the OCA commending him for stopping child abuse, they alluded that he should have reported sooner, even though the local authorities made it clear that had he reported it sooner, Mr. Genoa would have never been arrested as the evidence a mere 13 days earlier was insufficient to get a judge to approve a search warrant to provide enough evidence for an arrest and a possible conviction. This is a classic tale of “wag the dog.” What happened for more than a decade when reports of incessant abuse were filed? Why weren’t they dealt with? Why didn’t the public hear about these abuses until now? They were obviously written down and filed otherwise the OCA wouldn’t have been able to compile such a sickening report.
What happens when someone abuses or neglects a child? Protocol should be to inform the Department of Children and Families. Unfortunately, that is not the first response for HBOE employees. They choose to deal with all matters internally first as to cover it. It is reported, it reaches the legal department of which Attorney Jill Cutler Hodgman has direct oversight. Hodgman, who has been with the HBOE since 2002 and has been its Chief Labor and Legal Counsel since 2010 has the responsibility of reviewing all reports and issuing appropriate reprimands and consequences for suspect and illegal activity in Hartford Public Schools. In 15 years, under several different Superintendents of Schools Mrs. Hodgman has been the only consistent and permanent figure throughout all of these report of findings, yet no one has questioned her or investigated whether she had appropriately done her job.
No one questions the legal department, not the mayor, certainly not the board chair, or the board. So, consider this, if the corruption stemmed directly from years of illegal covering-up, possibly falsifying and destroying documents and reports from parents and teachers; who then could demand that Mrs. Hodgman and the entire legal department become accountable and truly transparent? For the past decade and a half, that answer has been no one. The issue is not and has never been lack of reporting! People have been shouting from the rooftops for years. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez must understand that people have been reporting for 20 years or more. According to a Channel 3 News report, a former office secretary at Sports and Science Academy reported that Eddie Geneo was kissing a girl inappropriately and passionately. She was fired. Yet this same system bizarrely continues to encourage people to speak up.
Genoa’s defense concerning his passionate kissing technique was that he used the same technique on all young girls even his own daughters. Perhaps that made the situation better from the legal department’s perspective. When that report was filed, Genao wasn’t fired, but rather promoted by Superintendent Dr. Steven Adamoski. The secretary was fired for reporting and Genao was promoted. Understand, reporting wasn’t the issue. The issue was that the report was inappropriately handled, and swept under the carpet by legal, since the primary interest of the legal department and the board members is NOT the children as they tirelessly claim. Their interest and loyalty is clear—TO PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF THEIR COLLEAGUES, of which, they do a remarkable job.
If HBOE legal didn’t want OCA to discover these horrific and repeated reports of child abuse, then they should have destroyed the evidence, which of course, would have be illegal. However, that would have made a bit more sense. It’s like a drug dealer who keeps meticulous records of every transaction yet denies that he sells drugs when confronted by the police. This is outrageous! The problem has gone on too long and this war has costed far too many lives. Instead of the board members taking a stand and confronting the evil actions of Mr. Wareing, they continue to meet twice monthly and act like everything is fine, despite witnessing a bloody field of abuse of Hartford students right in front of them.
Accountability is the issue at hand. No one is accountable yet central office uses “accountability” as the buzz word of choice to fool teachers and parents into believing that they care. When the incident with labeling special needs students with stickers happened at SAND school, did Mr. Wareing lose his Chair position? No. Did the then Superintendent Schivano-Narvaez lose her job? No. Did the board hold them accountable for their lack of leadership? No. Did Jill Cutler Hodgman warn the school of the high-stake risks to the district with regards to such discriminatory practices and violating civil rights? No. Why? Because accountability is a farce at the HBOE. It isn’t real. It’s an illusion, one that unassuming parents and teachers have gullibly believed for decades.
OCA report of findings determined Dr. Lewis who is a humanitarian, publisher, child advocate and spiritual leader and has never held a position with Hartford Board of Education, as a mandated reporter. Yet the same report does not charge any high-ranking Chief, Executive Director or Central Office Worker with the same mandate since they do not have direct access to children. This “lack of accountability” created the atmosphere and continues to create the environments conducive for repeated child abuses; sexually, psychologically, physically, and verbally. If the leaders are not mandated, then by virtue of their immunity from such mandates make them the easiest candidates to victimize the children, since they are insulated from indictable consequences. If in fact, they are not mandated to report by law then such a law is unjust in nature and ensures a continuous platform by which these abuses will continue to occur.
The Final Battle
Now the stage has been set for the final battle, one in which no one wins. This battle is the battle that Wareing and his political buddies are allowing to happen because it exempts him and his friends from personal and careful examination. The teachers in the district are not the problem! Yet the language being used in the local media makes it appear that in order to fix the problem in Hartford schools, we must make teachers more accountable. Teachers must snitch on fellow teachers. Students must tell when things are not right. This is another classic “wag the dog” approach to shifting the blame on the teacher, thus creating a hostile environment between teachers and parents while an entire conscious-less board goes free again, failing to address concerns that are crucial to the life of this school district.
In the spirt of the French physician and prophet Michel de Nostredame, widely known as Nostradamus, I predict that if someone does not exercise courage to end this battle ensuing between teacher and parents, and confront the corruption in central office, that that the City of Hartford, will suffer greatly and Mayor Bronin will not be able to contain the situation. Teachers are daily on the frontlines, and to disrespect, dishonor and disguise this problem as one that they produced is a lie and an insult to those who educate our children. To the cowards that hide during times of crisis, the school principals are not the problem either. While there have been incidences of principals who did not properly act in certain matters, as were teachers who improperly acted in certain matters, these incidences are NOT the norm but rather the exception.
The only “constant” that has endured for nearly two decades is the cover up, and the lack of accountability by people who were set in place to protect and serve our children. The Office of the Superintendent since the time of Dr. Schivano-Narvaez going back 10 years ago to the beginning of the OCA report, should be in question. Every board member serving during those superintendent tenures should be in question concerning their response or lack thereof to these findings. An entire legal department who has consistently ignored the hundreds of reports filed with them should not only be investigated but should be charged with neglectfulness and possibly criminally. That is accountability!
My Promise to You
Teachers I’m fighting on the sidelines for you. Principals keep doing what you do. School staff don’t be afraid to bond with the students in fear that you will be charged with inappropriate conduct. Continue to lead, to love, to mentor, and to challenge Hartford’s students to be and become all that they can be. If no one stands up and tells the truth, stop passing off responsibility, stop forcing Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez to speak to issues of which she doesn’t have proper understanding, and stop creating a war between teachers and parents—I predict that this will be the war that ends all wars—A Fight Where No One Wins.
Dr. Aaron Lewis, Ph.D.
February 15, 2017
Post Script: If you are a teacher or school staff at any level and would like to come forth to voice your complaint concerning any abuses that you’ve witnessed, situations of on-the-job intimidation, or if you’ve been the victim of abuses, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-206-0024. Provide your personal contact information. I will personally reach out to you with the express aim of helping you to receive the justice you deserve. All conversation will be kept totally confidential.