NFA: Warrants 'raised questions' about response to sex assault allegations

Norwich Free Academy officials said in a written statement Thursday that court documents released Wednesday “raised questions” about the brief, dismissive inquiry top academy officials made in April 2017 after they first learned of an alleged sexual relation between an assistant coach and a student.

Police search warrants said academy Director of Campus Safety Kevin Rodino dismissed the allegation as “unsubstantiated” after both the student and the coach denied the claims. The report said Rodino did not call the student's parents and the allegation never was reported to state and local authorities as required of school personnel in any allegation of abuse of minors.

Former assistant coach Anthony Facchini, 25, of Norwich was charged Sept. 12 with two counts of second-degree sexual assault after reports of an alleged sexual relationship with a second student surfaced in June 2018 and were investigated by city police and the state Department of Children and Families.

Norwich police said more arrests are anticipated, and the New London County state’s attorney said publicly during a recent court appearance that the case includes “allegations of failure to report by staff at NFA.” Police seized computers and electronic equipment from the NFA campus Sept. 12 as part of their investigation.

The statement issued by Geoff Serra, director of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs on behalf of both the school administration and the board of trustees — the governing body overseeing school operations — said officials are awaiting the outcome of an independent investigation announced by board Chairwoman Sarette Williams before taking internal actions.

“NFA takes very seriously the responsibility of all mandated reporters employed by or associated with the Academy to comply with reporting requirements regarding children as required by state law,” the statement said. “The investigation and arrest of a former assistant coach has raised questions about an internal investigation conducted in April 2017. Earlier this month, Norwich Free Academy’s Board of Trustees initiated an investigation by an outside, independent party to review the facts of the April 2017 internal investigation. The Board will determine what further action, if any, will be taken once these findings are complete.”

Serra and Williams did not respond to specific questions posed by The Day asking the identity of the independent party, the cost of the investigation and how it is being funded.

The search warrant application for NFA’s computer equipment said Rodino received the initial report from NFA Curriculum Director Denise Grant, but Rodino repeatedly told police he received a “vague” anonymous allegation. Rodino at the time met with former Athletic Director Eric Swallow, Director of Student Affairs John Iovino and Head of School David Klein to discuss the allegation.

Reached briefly by phone Thursday, Williams said she could not comment beyond the written statement because the police investigation is ongoing.

Superintendents from several of NFA’s eight partner districts had varying reactions Thursday to the information contained in the four police warrants and to NFA’s response to the arrest and allegations. The group meets occasionally with Klein, but the November meeting was canceled for lack of an agenda, Norwich Superintendent Abby Dolliver said.

Dolliver said she first learned about the pending investigation in newspaper stories on Aug. 25 and did not receive official notification from NFA. Klein sent a message to parents and staff the evening of Aug. 25 as news stories were about to be posted on websites, but not to the partner districts, the superintendents said.

NFA partner district superintendents last met with Klein as a group on the morning of Sept. 12 — hours before Norwich police arrested Facchini and city, state police and FBI officers combed the campus executing the search and seizure warrant for computers and electronic devices. The investigation into the alleged sexual assault was not on that morning’s group agenda.

As that meeting was about to adjourn, Dolliver raised the question and complained that the partner districts were not being notified. Partner districts since have been included in school messages to staff and parents regarding the investigation and have received “one or two” messages from NFA regarding the investigation since then, Preston Superintendent Roy Seitsinger said Thursday.

“As you know, a significant number of students attending NFA are Norwich students,” Dolliver wrote in her Aug. 30 letter to Klein. “As the local educational agency for Norwich students we expect to be notified if any of the alleged victims in this investigation are or were Norwich students. Therefore, I request that you inform me immediately if NFA becomes aware of such information.”

Klein’s response, dated Sept. 17, reiterated information in NFA’s Aug. 25 statement to parents that NFA had terminated the former employee and informed Dolliver that: “to NFA’s knowledge, the police investigation and the alleged inappropriate conduct involved therein does not involve any Norwich students.”

Seitsinger said he received similar information from NFA that the investigation also does not involve Preston students.

“Our number one concern is the safety and well-being of all students, but particularly our students in Preston,” Seitsinger said Thursday. “We are doing our due diligence on behalf of our students to make sure they remain safe.”

Seitsinger declined to comment on how NFA has handled the allegations, except to seek assurance that students are safe, and the situation is resolved quickly.

He said no partner district meeting is scheduled until January but some members of the group are considering asking for a meeting with NFA officials.

Bozrah Superintendent John Welch and Lisbon Superintendent Sally Keating declined to comment on the police investigation and NFA’s response to the allegations.

Welch said his only knowledge of the case is based on the newspaper accounts, and he recalled getting two messages from NFA since the start of the school year about it.

“We are saddened by this news, surely,” Welch said. “We still remain confident in NFA as an institution.”

Although she had no comment on the investigation, Keating said in an email statement that the safety of Lisbon students “is of paramount concern, and that there are many District procedures and protocols in place to ensure their well-being.”

c.bessette@theday.com

David Klein's message to parents

Message sent to Norwich Free Academy parents Thursday evening:

A Message from the Head of School

Good evening,

We had another great day on campus. I'm writing to acknowledge the news coverage NFA has experienced in the past few days.

As always, to the best of our ability, we will update our school community as this situation continues to unfold.

Our faculty and staff will remain focused upon what they do so well — teach, inspire, and care for our students. They will continue to be the steadfast and reliable people your children count on every day. Their goodness and commitment is the strength of our NFA community.

Regards,

David J. Klein

Head of School

 

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