So where does buck stop for NFA in case involving sexual assault of students?

The Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees took a bold step Monday in concluding Head of School David Klein bears no fault for the failure of the school to act appropriately when confronted with allegations of sexual relations between a part-time coach and a student, inaction which allegedly allowed for further sexual misconduct involving a different student.

The phrase “the buck stops here” typically refers to the leader of an organization accepting responsibility. With its vote Monday, the trustees have decided the buck doesn’t stop with Klein, and instead gave him the authority to decide where it does stop.

Heads may still roll, but it won’t be his.

At issue is how NFA officials reacted when first confronted in April 2017 with credible allegations that assistant athletic coach Anthony Facchini, now 25, was having sex with a student, beginning when she was 17. A brief and superficial investigation failed to confirm the affair, which, according to police, Facchini has since confessed to having happened.

Subsequently NFA officials learned of Facchini having sexual relations with a second student, beginning when she was 15, an affair Facchini has also allegedly admitted.

In Connecticut, a teacher or coach who has sexual relations with a student, even if consensual, is committing a crime. Facchini, who lives in Norwich, is charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault.

After meeting behind closed doors for nearly two hours Monday, during which the high school’s own internal investigation was discussed, academy trustees unanimously voted on a motion that concludes Klein “did not engage in inappropriate or wrongful conduct regarding matters within the scope of the investigation.”

“The findings further indicate that Mr. Klein’s actions have been ethical, professional and appropriate based on his interpretation of the information he had been provided.”

Those findings conflict with affidavits submitted by Norwich police in obtaining search and arrest warrants. Norwich police informed the court that Campus Safety Director Kevin Rodino wrote in his initial report that it was decided — after advising Athletic Director Eric Swallow, Director of Student Affairs John Iovino, and Klein — “that Swallow would meet with Facchini regarding this matter to gain additional information. Rodino also noted that if the allegations were found to be true, Facchini would be advised the social interaction should stop immediately.”

If Klein was indeed part of that decision making process, as police indicate, it would amount to wrongful and inappropriate conduct.

It would have been inappropriate to sign off on such a superficial review of the first allegation of improper sexual relations. Denials by Facchini and the first victim apparently were enough to wrap up Rodino’s two-day review. Shouldn’t Klein have insisted on a more thorough investigation?

Secondly, the plan that a Facchini admission would have been greeted with only an admonishment to stop it — rather than referring the matter to police and appropriate state authorities — would clearly be wrong.

And because the investigation ended there a second student was allegedly victimized.

At this point, at least, the public does not know what NFA’s internal investigation, conducted by attorney Matthew Curtin, has found that would lead the trustees to clear Klein. The board has now left it to the head of school to decide, based on that internal review, if others under his supervision should be held accountable. So far the buck has stopped with Swallow, who resigned Sept. 10, 2018, two days before Facchini’s arrest.

This matter is hardly over. There is likely to be a lawsuit or lawsuits. At least one of the victims has obtained an attorney, Jason Burdick of New London. The criminal case remains open. If police conclude laws requiring the reporting of credible suspicions of sexual misconduct against a student were violated, more arrests are possible.

In other words, the trustees better have high confidence their decision to clear Klein can sustain scrutiny. Their credibility — and that of the institution for which they are responsible — are now on the line.

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 Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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