The Office of Child Advocacy released a 76-page report detailing ten years of child abuse in the Hartford Public School system, Hartford, CT. The report details several incidents of ill-treatment of students in a timely and comprehensive manner. I have reduced the main points of this 76-page report down to 14 pages so that it can be read and understood far more quickly. Please feel free to print this out and read it and stay informed.
Dr. Aaron Lewis
THE OFFICE OF THE CHILD ADVOCATE
In April, 2016, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin requested that the Office of the Child Advocate begin an immediate review of the policy, procedures and practices of the Hartford Public School district (“HPS”) with regard to mandated reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. This request followed the arrest of a high-ranking HPS administrator, Eduardo (“Eddie”) Genao for felony Risk of Injury to a child, and after public concerns were reported regarding HPS’ executive/s possible knowledge of a prior reported concern about a “director” employed by HPS engaged in “inappropriate contact” with a child. The OCA undertook a comprehensive review of HPS’ policies and practices with regard to not only mandated reporting of suspected abuse or neglect consistent with state law, but also the district’s policies and practices regarding compliance with federal Title IX obligations– namely to prevent, identify and respond effectively to concerns of sexual discrimination, harassment or abuse within the school community. OCA’s review included extensive examination of district records as well as interviews with key personnel from the district and the Board of Education. OCA also undertook a broad review of research, data and federal guidance regarding mandated reporting and Title IX compliance.
In 2010, the Office of the Child Advocate and the Office of the Attorney General issued a joint investigative report after an extensive investigation into various school districts’ compliance with state mandated reporting laws. The OCA/AG report contained the following key findings:
- School districts did not regularly review and update their mandated reporting policies.
- Training of mandated reporters was inadequate.
- Mandated reporters sometimes failed to make reports concerning suspicion that school employees had neglected or abused a child.
- DCF did not have a system in place to efficiently document, track and address either the failure to make mandated reports or delays in mandated reporting.
- School employees who engaged in misconduct were not effectively held accountable. Despite the publication of the OCA-Attorney General Joint Report in 2010 and the subsequent passage of several new laws to improve mandated reporting, the OCA’s current review contains many of the same findings.
“Reasonable Cause to Suspect” child abuse or neglect is the legal standard for mandated reporting.
Federal and state law require mandated reporters—certain categories of individuals whose employment or role in the community involves being around children and families—who have “reasonable cause to suspect or believe” that a child has been abused or neglected to take steps to protect that child from further abuse by reporting his/her concerns to DCF or law enforcement.9 Such reports must be made “as soon as practicable but not later than twelve hours after the mandated reporter has reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a child has been abused or neglected or placed in imminent risk of serious harm, by telephone or in person” to DCF or a law enforcement agency.
Mandated reporters are neither required nor expected to conduct his/her own investigation into suspected child abuse.
That long-standing principle has recently been codified in the child welfare statutes, “a mandated reporter’s suspicion or belief may be based on factors including, but not limited to, observations, allegations, facts or statements by a child, victim, as described in subdivision (2) of subsection (a) of this section, or third party. Such suspicion or belief does not require certainty or probable cause.”11 Nor do the mandatory reporting laws contain any requirement that the abuser and/or victim be specifically identified at the time the report is made by the reporter.
DCF is Obligated to Investigate School’s Failure to Report
The failure of a mandated reporter “employed by a local or regional board of education” to promptly report such suspected abuse/neglect of a child triggers a mandatory investigation conducted by DCF in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101o. The failure to report by any mandated reporter can result in harsh penalties, including criminal penalties.
Title IX Prohibits Sexual Discrimination in Education Programs
When a school accepts federal financial assistance, it takes on responsibilities to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities in federally funded schools at all levels.
The Title IX regulations outline three key procedural requirements. Each school must:
(1) Disseminate a notice of nondiscrimination;
(2) designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under Title IX; and
(3) adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for the prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee sex discrimination complaints.
A school has a responsibility to respond promptly and effectively to concerns of sexual discrimination/harassment or abuse.
Once a school knows or reasonably should know of possible sexual violence or harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. If sexual violence has occurred, a school must take prompt and effective steps to end the sexual violence, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects. A school has these responsibilities even if a student or his or her parent does not want to file a complaint or does not request that the school take any action on the student’s behalf, if a school knows or reasonably should know about possible sexual harassment or sexual violence.16A school must take steps to protect the complainant as necessary, including interim steps taken prior to the final outcome of the investigation.
Every school must have and distribute a policy against sex discrimination, stating that it does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs and activities.
The school’s anti-discrimination policies must be widely distributed and available on an on-going basis. The policy must state that inquiries concerning Title IX may be referred to the school’s Title IX coordinator or to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Federal guidance provides that schools should take affirmative steps to prohibit inappropriate conduct by school personnel and have “procedures for identifying and responding to such conduct,” including codes of conduct that specifically address “what is commonly known as grooming—a desensitization strategy common in adult educator sexual misconduct.”
OCR guidance emphasizes prevention, clear protocols for response and intervention, and preparing personnel and students to “ensure that everyone understands what types of conduct are prohibited and knows how to respond when problems arise.”19 Every school must have a Title IX coordinator and a Grievance procedure. Schools must notify all students and employees of the name or title and contact information of the Title IX coordinator.20 Every school must have and make known a grievance procedure for students to file complaints of sex discrimination, including complaints of sexual violence. Schools can use general disciplinary procedures to address complaints of sex discrimination, but all procedures must provide for prompt and equitable resolution of sex discrimination complaints. This includes the right to adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints. OCR guidance cautions that when using employee disciplinary procedures, the school must be “mindful of its obligation to provide interim measures to protect the complainant in the educational setting.”
State law requires that districts implement a sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention program.
In accordance with current state law, school district’s sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention program must include:
(1) For teachers, instructional modules that may include, but not be limited to, (A) training regarding the prevention and identification of, and response to, child sexual abuse and assault, and (B) resources to further student, teacher and parental awareness regarding child sexual abuse and assault and the prevention of such abuse and assault;
(2) For students, age-appropriate educational materials designed for children in grades kindergarten to twelve, inclusive, regarding child sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention that may include, but not be limited to, (A) the skills to recognize (i) child sexual abuse and assault, (ii) boundary violations and unwanted forms of touching and contact, and(iii) ways offenders groom or desensitize victims, and (B) strategies to (i) promote disclosure, (ii) reduce self-blame, and (iii) mobilize bystanders; and
(3) A uniform child sexual abuse and assault response policy and reporting procedure that may include, but not be limited to, (A) actions that child victims of sexual abuse and assault may take to obtain assistance, (B) intervention and counseling options for child victims of sexual abuse and assault, (C) access to educational resources to enable child victims of sexual abuse and assault to succeed in school, and (D) uniform procedures for reporting instances of child sexual abuse and assault to school staff members.
REVIEW OF EDUARDO GENAO’S EMPLOYMENT HISTORY WITH HARTFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS REVEALS SIGNIFICANT CONCERNS REGARDING THE DISTRICT’S COMPLIANCE WITH MANDATED REPORTING AND ANTIDISCRIMINATION LAWS
- In April, 2016, HPS and BOE officials, as well as a community member/mandated reporter, did not timely report concerns that an HPS “director” was having “inappropriate” contact with a child.
- Eddie Genao’s History with the HPS Reveals Gaps in Preventing, Identifying and Responding to Allegations of Abuse/Neglect and Educator Misconduct.
Statements made by Maria that DCF found credible include that Genao asked Maria questions such as whether “she had a boyfriend” and “if she was talking to other people on the computer.” He also asked “where her parents were.” At one point, Genao asked her if she could use a “Webcam” or “MSN messenger” so that they could see each other.
Genao would use terms of affection and intimacy when talking to Maria on-line, such as “preciosa” (beautiful), telling her she was “linda” (beautiful/pretty) and “negra” (dark). Genao cautioned Maria she should keep their communication a secret, telling her that “it wouldn’t be good to tell anyone that we’re on the computer.”
Immediately upon learning of the DCF investigation, Genao deleted certain information and programs from his home computer. Included in HPS’s interview summaries were many of the same statements contained in the interview summaries recorded by DCF, including those statements made by Maria that DCF found credible.
DCF credited Maria’s statements made during HPS/DCF interviews about the “computer instant messaging communications with the Principal, the authority represented by the Principal, and related physical contact by the Principal.” In his defense, Genao told DCF and HPS interviewers that “[Maria] never asked me to stop.”
On December 17, 2007, while the HPS investigation was on-going, HPS Human Resource notes indicate that the district’s Family Relations Advocate (“FRA”) met with HPS administrators to discuss the allegations made against Genao. The FRA told HPS administrators about a conversation that she had with Molly regarding her concern for her family member, Maria. During the meeting with FRA, Molly reiterated the concerns she reported to HPS and DCF during interviews that Genao also made Molly uncomfortable while she was a student at HPS and that he would “hug and kiss her” when other people were not around. Molly told investigators that Mr. Genao also told her to keep their on-line communication a secret. Molly stated “I wanted to leave school because he made me uncomfortable.” When Molly was offered the opportunity to be moved within HPS, she refused and stated that: “I can’t leave my [family member]” and that she needed to be at HPS “so this stops.” Molly reported to the FRA that “I wish I had told you earlier but I was embarrassed.” Certain individuals, including HPS employees and a DCF staff attorney and social worker were interviewed by DCF as part of its investigation into the allegations made against Genao. Multiple school employees reported to DCF that they had been told by Maria that Genao was electronically emailing/messaging her at night and that the youth was concerned and uncomfortable. Maria was also a “student worker” for Genao. Other employees confirmed that they heard one or more female students were uncomfortable being alone with Genao when his secretary wasn’t present. One teacher stated she heard that students “were saying some things happened between them and Mr. Genao,” and others referenced “rumors” they heard about Genao and female students. Another employee knew about other girls who didn’t feel comfortable being alone with Genao and the employee had discussed with a colleague the way in which Genao touched a student’s hips in the cafeteria. Multiple employees stated that they advised Maria to tell her parents or other authority figures about the electronic messaging and her discomfort with the principal. One employee told Maria to “stop messaging with Genao and to take him off her list.” A teacher told DCF that Maria had reported being uncomfortable with Genao but that “[Maria] did not want to do anything about it.”
In the wake of DCF’s investigation, Mr. Genao faced internal disciplinary action in the form of a reprimand letter. Through his union representative, Mr. Genao requested that the district take an “aggressive approach” to any Freedom of Information Act request regarding the matter. A district note accompanying the letter of reprimand included a written caution that the matter must be kept “very confidential.” The disciplinary letter which referred to Genao’s “poor judgment,” but not to DCF’s characterization of his behavior as “grooming,” was negotiated by Genao and his union representative during a meeting in January, 2008, who together indicated the Union would demand “a full hearing prior to issuance of anything more than a verbal reprimand.” The disciplinary letter ultimately settled on by the parties referred to Genao’s “inappropriate and unacceptable” engagement in electronic social interactions with a student and reflected Genao’s promise to “cease and desist from social exchanges with students, electronically and otherwise.” Any non-compliance would subject Genao to discipline and possible termination from employment. Disconcertingly, the District’s reprimand indicated that “there was no finding of inappropriate physical conduct,” despite both Maria and her female relative (the former student) having reported that Mr. Genao had engaged in inappropriate physical contact, with Maria stating that Genao “always had to be touching her,” and Molly stating that Genao would hug or kiss her when other people were not around.
Following his lateral transfer to Executive Director of Adult Education, Genao was promoted/transferred to several high-ranking executive level positions within HPS, without a record of any individualized or targeted counseling, training or supervision to surveil Mr. Genao’s interaction with students. Genao’s final position with HPS, Executive Director of Compliance [for special education], was effectuated pursuant to a contract with the HBOE signed in October, 2013 and which offered Genao a starting salary of $169,494, to increase to $176,274 in July, 2015. Executive level positions must be recommended by the Superintendent and approved by the HBOE. Genao’s promotion was recommended to the Board by then Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. Genao served in multiple positions that required HBOE approval. Genao’s final position as Director of Compliance was considered a demotion from the Superintendent’s cabinet and was facilitated by the most recent Superintendent of Schools, Beth Schiavino-Narvaez.
OCA interviews revealed that Board members typically do not examine or ask about prior personnel matters of candidates that the Superintendent is recommending for promotion.
Superintendent Adamowski, in response to questions from OCA, stated that he had not faced the issue of how or when to share such information with the Board as he would never have sought to promote someone with a professional reprimand in his or her file. At least one other Board member stated that even a prior reprimand such as Genao’s may not prevent her from approving the candidate for promotion, considering the history and whether time had elapsed without further complaint. This Board member verbalized concern that all applicants for promotion must be treated fairly and with “due process,” and that one’s past cannot be held against them forever. Though the Board of Education is required to approve executive level appointments and contracts, according to interviews conducted by OCA with current and former Board of Education members, appointments that come before the Board are made on the recommendation of the superintendent and are generally accepted. The only information provided to Board members is the candidate’s resume and perhaps a summary of qualifications. Lateral moves, demotions and those positions below principal do not require Board approval.
- Between 2005 and 2016 the District did not have clear protocols and practices to identify, prevent or respond to child sexual abuse with the school community and mandated reporting policies were not consistent with state law.
- The Board of Education did not assist the District with maintaining up-to-date and effective mandatory reporting policies despite organizational by-laws that placed responsibility for policy-making with the Board of Education.
- HPS/Board, subsequent to the resignation and arrest of Mr. Genao, completed an update of its mandated reporting policies in June 2016, with identified areas for continued improvement.
- HPS Title IX Compliance Framework Is Significantly Deficient
- DCF Is Not Maintaining a Database of Records of Instances in Which Mandated Reporters Employed By a Local or Regional Board Of Education Fail To Report Suspected Abuse/Neglect of a Child
- OCA Conducts an Independent Review of Reports to DCF Regarding Alleged Abuse/Neglect of Students by HPS Staff
2013 Investigation by DCF/HPS of Multiple Staff at HPS Elementary School Revealed Egregious Pattern of Failure to Prevent, Report and Respond to Child Abuse and Neglect In 2013, a call to DCF by a young boy’s foster mother triggered an extensive investigation by DCF of child abuse and neglect and revealed an alarming pattern of school personnel’s failure to comply with state mandated reporting laws. OCA reviewed documents associated with this investigation as part of the current review. Internal HPS records from the boy’s school at the time included an October 2011 memo created by the principal and distributed to all school staff outlining employee obligations to report abuse or neglect to the principal and a school crisis team. The memo addressed what the principal considered to be staff’s “misunderstandings” regarding the process for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect to DCF. The memo identified a school “Crisis Team” that would convene to “review all information and evidence connected with [a staff member’s internal] report to determine if a call to DCF is warranted.” Only if warranted would the mandated reporter/employee then phone in a report of suspected abuse to DCF. In cases where the alleged perpetrator of abuse/neglect was a school staff member, the memo directed concerned employees to “notify the building principal,” and the principal will then “conduct an investigation.” Only if “enough evidence suggests possible abuse,” would the principal contact the Superintendent and notify the parent.
A school administrator was informed by a staff member of a separate incident where another school employee was observed “pushing and slapping” the young child “in the face when he was in the cafeteria.”
- A school administrator learned of other incidents where the child was allegedly hurt while being “intervened” with or restrained by staff.
- Another professional, not directly employed by the school, reported that she saw the young boy with his teacher, and after the teacher made a joke and the child asked the teacher what was funny, the teacher asked the boy “you don’t ask me what I’m laughing at… excuse me… who do you think you’re talking to… boy, I am a grown woman, you better stay in your seat… you better stop before I slap you out of that chair, and I don’t care if [another professional is in here], I’ll do it right in front of them, boy please.” The teacher then allegedly stated to another young child, in ear-shot of the adult, “do you know what’s wrong with him? Don’t be like him, okay? Don’t turn out like [young boy].” The professional reported the incident to her community supervisor and to school administration.
- All copies of these incidents were maintained by school administration and were not reported to DCF.
- The child, then in first grade, told a staff member that he “wanted to kill himself.” Administrators later acknowledged that this was not the first time the child said he wanted to hurt or kill himself. School staff asked his communitybased clinician, with whom the child had a warm relationship, to come to school and assist him.
The investigation by DCF led to multiple substantiations of school employees (all reversed on administrative appeal despite the documentary evidence, witness statements, and DCF investigators’ fact-finding and conclusions). The district unsuccessfully tried to terminate at least two employees, including the teacher and a school administrator, as a result of the pattern of nonreporting and lack of protection for this young child.85 DCF, in its role as the child’s guardian, removed the child from the school and ensured he was placed in a safer environment. DCF administrators subsequently As a result of DCF’s investigation, District leadership, under then-Superintendent Kishimoto, asked DCF to help train principals and the Superintendent’s cabinet on mandated reporting laws. OCA was provided several emails exchanged by DCF personnel and HPS referring to the training provided by DCF to lead administrators in late 2013. During OCA interviews conducted as part of this review, the incidents outlined above—already known to the Child Advocate–were referenced by multiple district representatives. The employees described the incidents at the school as seminal events in the evolution of the district’s mandated reporting compliance, described the training DCF provided, and the increased attention paid to these principles in the wake of the internal scandal. District representatives also described the difficulty that they encountered when trying to hold employees accountable for child maltreatment, pointing to the unsuccessful effort to terminate the school employees in the wake of the repeated and unreported allegations of abuse and neglect of this young boy. District officials emphasized their contention that their hands are tied when DCF ultimately does not maintain the substantiation of abuse/neglect by district employees. Yet despite previous reporting from the OCA and the Attorney General’s Office, the shocking events at the school in 2013 and DCF’s subsequent training of HPS leadership, OCA’s contemporary review of reports to DCF between 2013 and 2016 reveal that the concerns of non-compliance with state reporting obligations remained persistent with the district. Further, review of reports gives rise to a number of concerns regarding the treatment of children with special needs, training and supervision and resources for staff working with children with disabilities, the lack of documentation and reporting regarding utilization of restraint and seclusion and occurrence of student injuries as required by state law, and the ability of district officials to hold employees accountable for concerning behavior.
DCF Investigation date: October, 2015 Alleged Victim: 7 year old boy, G. Special ed student – diagnosis of autism Reporter: (MH Professional – G’s therapist outside of school)
G’s community therapist called DCF and reported that child disclosed during therapy that day that a school employee had pinched him, leaving marks on his chest. She noted that she could see the marks. One was faded, which G said was from the previous Friday. During the investigation, it was learned that G’s mother had first spoken with the school about G having marks on him on a week prior. The school scheduled a meeting and agreed to remove the employee from G’s classroom. No report was made to DCF about the allegations brought forth by G’s mother. The school nurse also noted that G had been brought to her office escorted by his parents and a translator. She noted two bruises on G, as well as several raised marks on his body. His mother alleged that he had received the marks in school. Nurse did not report any concerns to DCF. DCF did not substantiate abuse as it could not determine how child sustained bruises. No documentation of consult with a child abuse pediatrician.
Case reflects failure to timely report allegations of inflicted injuries to a child.
DCF Investigation date: March, 2016 Alleged Victim: 5 year old child, diagnosed with Autism, non-verbal Reporter: mother
Child’s mother called DCF alleging that her 5 year old son was being injured in school. She reported that three weeks earlier her son came home from school and she saw that he had bruises and scratches on his ear. The child’s father took him to school the next day and asked what happened, but was told that no one knew anything. The child’s mother later met with the school principal and the child’s teacher, who stated she had seen the scratches on his ear but did not send him to the nurse. Mother later noticed another scratch on the child’s other ear, also unexplained. She returned to the school and spoke with the principal again, who agreed to arrange a school meeting to discuss. According to DCF investigation documents mother was upset because she did not think the school was doing anything about her son’s injuries and she did not know what to do. The school acknowledged that they knew about the injuries but could provide no explanation as to what happened. DCF did not substantiate due to the fact that the child has difficult behaviors, and DCF could not determine how the injuries were caused. OCA notes that bruising on the ear for a child is suspicious for inflicted injury and is extremely unlikely to have been caused by a child’s tantrum behavior.
Repeated injuries to a young child in school should have been timely reported to DCF. The mother’s concern was that the child received inflicted injuries.
DCF Investigation date: September, 2015 Alleged Victim: 6 year old student, diagnosed with Autism, non-verbal Reporter: school employee
A school employee called DCF to report an incident that occurred over three weeks earlier. A young child, non-verbal and diagnosed with Autism, left the school and could not be found. He was eventually found by someone in the community blocks away and returned to the school. DCF investigation revealed that the child was supposed to have one-to-one support due to his disability. The school stated that it was short-staffed and therefore the child was not being supervised as required. DCF did not substantiate the report for physical neglect, but DCF spoke to staff about ensuring they comply with mandated reporting obligations and the investigator documented concerns regarding the lack of supervision and poor staffing for the children’s classrooms—sending the concern to the Superintendent. Case reflects a failure to timely report a serious concern regarding child safety and lack of supervision.
DCF Investigation date: November, 2015 Alleged Victim: 10 year old student, specialized needs Reporter: Doctor and Mother
Doctor from children’s hospital called DCF regarding a 10 year old boy who presented with several marks, bruises and abrasions allegedly inflicted by a behavior technician at his school. The boy’s mother said she had been called into the school by the office staff because her son was having a “bad day.” When she arrived she saw that her son had a large mark on his arm. She showed the mark to the school principal who later stated to DCF that she was aware of the incident but she was collecting information to do her own investigation. The next day, mother brought the principal a photo of her child’s injuries. The principal then called DCF as well about the incident, but it had already been reported by the hospital.
Case reflects failure to timely report injuries to a child to DCF by school official and use of “internal investigation” in lieu of mandatory report.
DCF Investigation date: October, 2014 Alleged Victim: 7 year old student (D) Special ed student – diagnosis of autism Reporter: Maternal Grandmother (MG)
MG called DCF because she and D’s parents were concerned that seven year-old D was not receiving appropriate supervision in the school. She reported that he has a diagnosis of autism and is required to have one-to-one supervision, but has had five incident reports/injuries in a matter of weeks. D’s parents are concerned that he is not safe in the school. D’s IEP calls for 1:1 support, but family alleged he has not had this. School administrator told DCF investigator that he had told father that school “can’t guarantee that [D] won’t get scratched or have something thrown at him.” Teacher expressed concerns to DCF regarding staffing and supervision for children. She stated that she had brought these concerns to school administration and the special education department to explain that the classroom she worked in was out of compliance (with federal/state special education laws) due to lack of staffing for one-toone support. She said that the response to her emails was “to be patient.” An aide in the class told DCF that “she never got any documentation or training regarding how to work with these students,” and that she has no training to be in an ABA classroom, and that she doesn’t think HPS offers such training. DCF unsubstantiated the report of abuse, but stated that “a letter of program concerns will be sent to Principal and HPS superintendent to document these concerns [regarding staffing and training of the staff members in classroom.]”
Case reflects concern regarding failure to report pattern of injuries to a child, some resulting in injuries, lack of supervision for vulnerable children.
DCF Investigation date: February, 2016 Alleged Victim: 9 year old child Reporter: Nurse Practitioner
On 2/18/16, 9 year-old Y was brought to the local children’s hospital due to injuries he sustained at school. He had rug burns and scrapes on his neck and upper arms, bruising and pain in his ribs. He reported that his Principal as well as the school security guard used excessive force with him, restrained him and left marks. Y ended up on the floor and sustained multiple minor injuries. He did not tell anyone else at school and principal did not send him to the nurse to see his injuries. Injuries were visible with the child’s clothing on. Y’s mother noticed them when leaving the school and asked Y to pull up his shirt. She was very upset and spoke with principal who, according to the caller, told her that the more force Y uses, the more force they need to use. Principal told DCF that he was covering the in-school suspension room that day and had not been trained in proper restraint for many years. Several other students in the room reportedly witnessed the altercation and alleged that Principal was using excessive force with Y. DCF unsubstantiated the report, but did send a letter to the Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools regarding concerns about the Principal.
Case reflects concern regarding lack of reporting and documentation regarding injuries to a child. Districts are also required to report such injuries to the State Department of Education.
“In some districts, [internal] investigations went beyond what would be necessary to determine whether a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect existed… School personnel are not trained to conduct investigations… and there is no system in place to assess the quality of such investigations… Premature knowledge of the complaint, especially by the alleged perpetrator, can impede the investigator’s ability to obtain complete and truthful information… Mandated reporters are neither required to nor should they attempt to determine the truth of the allegations prior to making a report.”
“During the course of this investigation … we found numerous examples of practices in school districts that have the effect of strongly discouraging reporting to the DCF Hotline….From our interviews of numerous school district personnel in several school districts it is clear that the reluctance of mandated reporters to actually make the legally required reports to DCF is pervasive. Numerous school employees … expressed a reluctance to file reports due to strong fear of retaliation.”
DCF Investigation date: January, 2015 Alleged Victims: Multiple 12 and 13 year old students. Reporter: School administration
In December, 2014, a school administrator contacted DCF alleging emotional abuse of a 13-year-old boy by his teacher. The teacher reportedly pulled the boy, who has Tourette’s syndrome, out of class, screamed in his face “for 11 minutes” while the child was crying. Another student later told DCF that the teacher was furious with the boy for “blurting things out,” while they were working on a poem, and the teacher screamed at the boy, “even though he couldn’t help it.” The student witness told DCF that the other teacher (special education) in the class looked “Scared” when the boy was getting yelled at for such a long period of time. When the boy returned to the classroom he was still crying and another adult heard the teacher tell the boy to “sit up, stop crying, and go home and cry later.” But the boy could not stop crying and was still crying when the students went to their next class. In the next class the teacher, who was described by a student witness as “a really nice teacher,” helped the boy. The “really nice teacher” told the boy that it was alright and “he was going to talk to people about it and [what happened] was not acceptable.” During the investigation, DCF was made aware of a separate incident that was being investigated internally by the Hartford Public Schools Labor Relations Department, regarding an issue between the same teacher and another student, but that had not been reported to DCF. In January, 2015, another report was filed while the DCF investigation was ongoing regarding the alleged emotional abuse of another 12 year old student. In all three situations, the teacher was allegedly screaming at students, physically intimidating them, and removing them from class in ways that alarmed other adults in the school. Investigation by DCF revealed that over the previous decade there had been multiple reports to DCF about this teacher. But DCF investigations over the years revealed other unreported concerns about the teacher’s conduct with students—such complaints were handled internally by the district. None of the allegations between 2004 and 2014 were substantiated as abuse/neglect by DCF, but DCF reported back to the district with concerns regarding the teacher’s anger and possible need for counseling. DCF’s 2005 investigation was not substantiated but resulted in DCF identifying “program concerns due to [teacher’s] ongoing pattern of behavior as being borderline for emotional abuse and neglect.” DCF’s 2015 investigations revealed that the teacher appeared to mistreat children who were receiving special education services, and at least one student told DCF that the teacher only mistreats students who are not white. All of the students named as victims in the two 2015 DCF investigations are African-American. Throughout the most recent investigations, every teacher interviewed by DCF expressed concerns regarding the teacher’s behavior, and multiple students stated that the teacher tended to bully children with disabilities.
- A teacher told DCF that he had previously witnessed an incident where the teacher cornered a child, “taunted” him, and “attacked the student verbally” while the child cried. The music teacher said he was new to teaching but that he didn’t think this was how teachers should treat children. He said that another teacher also witnessed the incident.
- The special education teacher reported that she witnessed part of one of the incidents later reported to DCF, but that she tended to “tune things out.” She said that the boy (who was diagnosed with Tourette’s) was “hysterical” and another student told him “not to cry as he was going to get them in trouble.” She stated that there had been previous incidents involving the teacher “where she had to step in.” One day she was two classes away and heard the door slam, and thinking it was a student she walked into the classroom where she saw the children “Crying and [she] had to calm the students down.” She told the teacher to “take a walk,” and when he came back “he was calm but the students were still afraid of him.” She did not report any incidents to DCF.
- The principal told the DCF investigator that he has witnessed the teacher be aggressive and inappropriate with students in the past. He has reprimanded the teacher and talked about appropriate contact with students. The principal reported that he has had numerous complaints from parents about the teacher – many of whom call the teacher a bully. He stated that when he learned of a particular recent incident with a student he did not call DCF because he did not witness the incident himself and he knew that the other teachers who did were all mandated reporters as well. Ultimately, DCF substantiated emotional abuse and neglect by the teacher. DCF recommended that the teacher be placed on the Central Registry and noted significant concerns regarding his ability to appropriately teach children.
Corrective Actions to Ensure Compliance with Connecticut’s Mandatory Reporting Laws and Recognize, Prevent and Stop Abuse and Neglect of Students by Staff Members
- HPS should fully implement its June 2016 revised mandatory reporting policy and ensure that all schools within the district are complying with its provisions.
- Ensure that all employees are trained to understand that it is not the role of the employee to evaluate or investigate an allegation of suspected child abuse or neglect, it is only their obligation to report a “reasonable suspicion.”
- While a district has the obligation to conduct human resources investigations, sexual harassment/misconduct investigations, and discipline employees where appropriate, HPS must have clear protocols for coordinating and even delaying activities where necessary for child welfare or law enforcement priorities. Memorandum of Understanding with local law enforcement and child welfare agencies, as well as clear communication protocols with such agencies, can help clarify and coordinate investigative activities and responsibilities shared by the district with local and state officials.
- HPS/Board of Education should review its mandatory reporting policy, procedures and practices annually to ensure that all legislative changes are reflected in those policy, procedures and practices and any necessary changes are implemented. The role of the Board of Education in conjunction with HPS leadership/cabinet staff must be clarified with regard to the monitoring of compliance with mandated reporting policies and procedures
- HPS should review and revise its internal communications and mandatory reporting training program to ensure that all impacted employees are made aware of the mandatory reporting laws, receive appropriate mandatory reporting training and understand his/her reporting obligations. The Federal Government Accountability Office report observed that one school district created “Identification-sized” cheat sheets for staff to carry as a reminder of the district’s policies on reporting suspected abuse and neglect.104
- Protocols, training and guidance for staff should acknowledge that reports of abuse and neglect may often need to be reported internally and externally. Emphasize compliance with legal requirements for reporting to law enforcement and child welfare authorities, while ensuring clear internal reporting protocols for suspected child abuse/neglect and other incidents of child maltreatment. HPS should review its compliance practices and procedures to ensure that periodic reports are run, reviewed by the appropriate department and that any instances of noncompliance are addressed immediately.