Why Is Rivera so upset by benign letter on New London scandal?

Last week New London Board of Education president and former Superintendent Manuel Rivera inexplicably hurled a boulder from his glasshouse toward Mayor Michael Passero and Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Healy Eagan.

The pair felt Rivera's wrath after Eagan issued what was a benign "Status Update Letter" on its investigation into the potential root causes of the scandal that rocked the New London school system last school year. Two school personnel were arrested for their alleged sexual involvement with and sexual assault of students, while a third was arrested for failing to report her knowledge of the illicit activities. There were also several staff suspensions.

It was at Passero's urging that the Child Advocate agreed to investigate. The mayor was correct in his assessment that the public would only have confidence in the results of a review that came from an independent third party. Rivera did not like the idea from the start and Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie was also cool to it, noting the school board's hiring of a human resources consultant to assess whether policy and procedural flaws contributed to an environment that allowed such things to happen.

On Sept. 30, Passero's office asked the child advocate for an update on the investigation and any preliminary recommendations, leading to the status report dated Oct. 4 that got Rivera angry.

The report acknowledges the school district's efforts, noting, "receipt of information from the (New London) District regarding its personnel policy and practice changes as well as new curriculum and innovations designed to support healthy student development and promote positive school culture."

The update goes out of its way to note that such concerns are not unique to New London, but "arise in all child serving systems and programs." And it contains general policy guidelines to "promote safe and positive climates."

Eagan then states her continuing investigation will include reviewing more records and conducting further interviews, leading to a final report with findings and recommendations specific to New London.

Like I said, benign.

But in response Rivera, who was superintendent when some of this behavior happened (before retiring and running for school board), tossed his boulder in an email to Eagan.

Rivera complained the "Interim Report provided NO substantive information to guide us to create new policies that go beyond what is currently required by the State."

Rivera further complains that the status report was directed to the mayor and not the school board — though Ritchie was cc'd.

Then came the biggest boulder, a charge that Passero was playing politics with the scandal and the child advocate was enabling him.

"It is important that our community does not view this interim report and your office's intervention as an 'urgent' manipulation by our Mayor for political purposes immediately prior to election day. Unfortunately, that is not the perception of many," wrote Rivera who, unlike Passero, is not seeking re-election.

I left a message for Dr. Rivera hoping to find out what evidence, beyond speculation, he had that politics played a role. I'm not sure how getting an update on an ugly scandal benefits a mayor's re-election. Rivera had not returned my call by my Friday deadline.

Eagan on Thursday shot back in a letter to Rivera stating the OCA is independent and "not influenced by any particular party and/or candidate."

Passero referenced Rivera's glasshouse.

"This comes from the guy who was running the show during the problem that is being investigated, and he's accusing me of political manipulation? It's outrageous," said Passero, adding. "And it's a pretty cheap shot."

I don't know about you, but I am more interested than ever to see what that final report says.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

 


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