NFA officials sought to protect NFA, not its students

Court documents released Wednesday paint the picture of an institution, Norwich Free Academy, too eager to dismiss allegations of a coach having an illicit and illegal sexual relationship with a student. It appears as if those in authority at NFA did not want to push too hard for fear of what they might confirm and how that could tarnish the high school’s reputation.

Criminally, the failure to more aggressively pursue the initial reporting of a misconduct left the door open to the same coach, by his own admission to police, pursuing a second sexual relationship with an even younger student.

As is often the case, the failure to act appropriately made things worse and the damage to the reputation of the institution greater.

Anthony Facchini, 25, of Norwich is charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault. Facchini was an assistant athletic coach at NFA. Sexual intimacy with a student by a teacher or coach is a state crime, regardless of whether the activity is consensual or whether the student has reached the age of consent.

There is good reason for this. The teacher or coach is in a position of authority, able to manipulate an immature student who may be flattered by the attention but who can end up with lasting emotional damage.

According to arrest and search warrants, NFA Curriculum Director Denise Grant was the first to tell Campus Safety Director Kevin Rodino, a former police officer, about the reports she was hearing that Facchini was having an affair with a student. On April 24, Rodino undertook what can only be viewed as a superficial two-day investigation.

Facchini and the student were questioned and — surprise! — denied the relationship. Parents were not contacted to see if they were seeing any activity that concerned them. There is no indication social media postings were pursued.

More troubling, Rodino and the NFA officials he reported to did not contact the Norwich Police Department or the Connecticut Department of Children and Families concerning the allegation of sexual misconduct involving a minor, as required by state law. Those agencies have investigative authority and ability that far exceed that of a campus security official.

But, again, it appeared some folks at NFA were hoping this would all just blow over.

Information obtained by police executing search warrants suggest a “boys will be boys” attitude about the young coach in Rodino’s communication with Athletic Director Eric Swallow, Director of Student Affairs John Iovino, and Head of School David Klein, NFA’s top administrative official.

“Rodino states in the initial report that it was decided, after advising Iovino, Klein and Athletic Director Eric Swallow, that Swallow would meet with Facchini regarding this matter to gain additional information,” the warrant said. “Rodino also noted that if the allegations were found to be true, Facchini would be advised the social interaction should stop immediately.”

“Now cut it out, young man” was the planned response if the reports were found to be true? Not contact police. Not make sure other students were not involved with Facchini.

The predictable later happened. Alleged sexual relations between Facchini and a second student surfaced on June 8, 2018, when another coach did what should be done: let NFA officials know and follow up with a written report that brought city police and DCF into the investigation.

NFA fired Facchini on July 12. Swallow resigned as athletic director Sept. 10, two days before Facchini’s arrest.

Finally, a word to Chairwoman Sarette Williams and her Board of Trustees: Be prepared to step up. So far NFA has circled the wagons, issuing carefully worded joint statements by the board and administration. Their caution is understandable, their civil liability substantial. The board must recognize, however, that its responsibility in acting in the best interests of NFA may be parting ways with the self-interest of prominent members of its administration.

The trustees initiated an investigation by an outside, independent party to review the facts of the 2017 internal investigation. If it is an honest investigation and not a whitewash, it won't reflect well on the NFA administration. The trustees should be prepared to act appropriately. Don’t even think about putting a positive spin on this fiasco.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

Editor's Note: In an effort to protect the identities of victims, our policy is to not allow comments on any story about sexual crimes.

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