Former New London superintendent explains why he hired Gaskin and others with criminal pasts
Last week I got a chance to talk with former New London Superintendent Nicholas Fischer about the hiring in 2014, under his watch, of Corriche Gaskin, now in the news after being charged with alleged sexual misconduct while working in the school system, including a sexual encounter with an eighth grader. The investigation resulting from Gaskin's alleged misbehavior has expanded into a full-blown scandal for the school system, with several personnel suspended.
Fischer, who still lives in the community and remains an active supporter of New London schools, said the hiring of Gaskin despite his criminal background was neither unusual nor, in his opinion, inappropriate.
“I believe in redemption,” he told me.
The nature of the news, he said, is that there won’t be stories about the people who were given second chances and did not disappoint.
Fischer was near the end of his tenure as superintendent when he approved Gaskin’s hiring in March 2014 as a paraprofessional, an entry-level job that included such responsibilities as escorting students to programs, copying papers for teachers and other quasi-clerical tasks.
The superintendent was at odds with the leadership of his Board of Education at the time, having pushed for state intervention to try to help its struggling schools and, in the process, effectively displace its school board. By July 2014, he was gone.
As for the hiring, it would be wrong and a violation of federal labor laws to summarily reject for job consideration all those with criminal records, Fischer said.
“If you expect people to get back into civilian life there has to be a chance for them to redeem themselves, that they can get a job and earn a living. Because, otherwise, what’s to say they shouldn’t go back to the criminal way,” Fischer said.
To assess candidates with criminally checkered pasts his administration established criteria, he said. If the crime was victimless, meaning it did not involve an assault or robbery, for example, and if the applicant was not a repeat offender and had some years of staying out of trouble, they would get hiring consideration, he said.
“There were a number of people in the community who really had their eyes out for young or, frankly, older people who had been kind of down on their luck and were looking for lower level, entry level jobs in the system and asked if we were willing to give them an opportunity,” Fischer recalled.
Those hired often had similar prior histories, he said. “They were young, they were stupid, and they did something with drugs.”
All of this describes Gaskin, a 2004 graduate of New London High School. He was caught in 2008, when 23, currying crack cocaine and pleaded guilty in federal court to possession with intent to distribute, a felony. When applying, he was upfront about his past, recalled Fischer, and had letters of recommendation from school staff and members of the community.
But what does it say about someone's judgment and moral code to be caught peddling the poison that is crack cocaine? As for it being a victimless crime, try telling that to the family of an addict supplied by drug dealers.
On the other hand, Gaskin’s criminal past contained nothing that suggested a connection to the types of crimes for which he now stands accused. He was convicted of distributing drugs, not of sexual assault.
A year after his hiring, by which time Fischer had left the system, Gaskin was promoted to “school climate specialist” at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, tasked with monitoring school culture and climate and working to ensure that the school afforded a safe environment, ironic given the charges he now faces. He was also active in youth athletics and after-school programs.
Why did he get such a big raise in 2018, from $36,970 to $44,217? And why was he transferred from Bennie Dover to Harbor Elementary School at the start of the current school year? If police investigators are to be believed, his exploits at Bennie Dover did not create the culture one would expect. Two women, a teacher and a paraprofessional, told police that they had sex with him at the school and of his proclivity for recording the encounters.
Most serious are the allegations involving students. And the investigation continues. Gaskin is charged with second-degree sexual assault, with voyeurism and possession of child pornography and with multiple counts of risk of injury to a minor.
Almost certainly some people had suspicions but chose to remain silent.
“One of the obligations that comes out of this is resensitizing people to pay attention to rumors, pay attention to things you’re hearing,” said Fischer. “Do not take things for granted. Don’t assume this is a good person and think, ‘They can’t be doing that’. Uh, uh. Sometimes you have to step up and say, ‘Excuse me, no that is not acceptable.’”
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
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