Norwich teacher to resign in settlement over DCF allegations

Norwich - A veteran middle school science teacher has agreed to resign in a settlement after the state Department of Children and Families substantiated "emotional neglect and physical neglect" against four students at Teachers' Memorial Middle School.

Teacher Robert Ashton, who had worked in Norwich's two middle schools since 1999 and has taught at Teachers' Memorial since 2003, agreed to a separation settlement agreement with the Board of Education this month. The board approved the agreement Oct. 8 that calls for paying Ashton through Dec. 31 based on his annual salary of $80,516.

The settlement was signed by Ashton, Superintendent Abby Dolliver and co-presidents of the Norwich Teachers' League, Elizabeth Hanlon and Stacey Hungerford.

As a result of the DCF investigation, Ashton was placed on a non-criminal, non-public DCF Central Registry. DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said the registry includes names of those with substantiated accusations of neglect or abuse. Kleeblatt said he could not address any specific neglect or abuse case.

Kleeblatt said the vast majority of names on the list are family members involved in substantiated abuse or neglect cases. Investigations connected to the Central Registry are separate from criminal proceedings in abuse cases, he said.

While not frequently, at times DCF does receive complaints about school employees being accused of neglect or abuse, Kleeblatt said. Several school officials, including teachers, administrators and counselors, are mandatory reporters when they suspect abuse or neglect.

The Day obtained a copy of the settlement, an Aug. 21 letter titled "Statement of Reasons for Termination" to Ashton from Dolliver and a DCF letter to the school principal through a state Freedom of Information request. The Day has a pending request for a report on the DCF findings that would redact the names of the students and families involved.

No details have been released to date on the substance of the complaints, the investigation or the findings by DCF staff. The settlement includes a confidentiality agreement by all parties.

DCF sent a letter Aug. 2 to Teachers' Memorial Principal Alexandria Lazzari stating that the agency was required under a new state law and department policy to notify school officials whenever investigations involve school employees.

"Mr. Ashton has been substantiated for Emotional Neglect and Physical Neglect against his students (names redacted) for which he was placed on the DCF Central Registry," the letter from Kristilyn Davis of the Norwich DCF office states.

In her Aug. 21 letter to Ashton, Dolliver cited the investigation and his placement on the Central Registry as "sufficient cause for termination of your employment."

Dolliver declined to comment on any specifics in the case.

In general, she said the school system routinely includes the DCF Central Registry in background checks on job applicants.

Ashton's attorney, Adrienne DeLucca at the Connecticut Education Association, could not be reached to comment Tuesday.

In the settlement, the school board agreed to pay Ashton his regular pay through Dec. 31 of this year and to provide single-person health insurance coverage through Aug. 31, 2014. Until Dec. 31, Ashton's share of the premium will be deducted from his biweekly paycheck. After that, he will have to pay the premium share no later than the 15th of each month.

"The Board acknowledges that Ashton's resignation is not a voluntary resignation, as it has been given in lieu of termination," the settlement reads. "Therefore, the Board shall not contest a claim for unemployment compensation by Ashton which is made on or after Jan. 1, 2014."

Ashton agreed not to file any claims of liability against the Board of Education or its employees and representatives, and he also agreed to withdraw a complaint he had filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

c.bessette@theday.com

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