New London delay in providing Child Advocate info unwarranted

It sure looks like spin.

Back in August New London Superintendent of Schools Cynthia Ritchie met with our editorial board to discuss her difficult first year on the job. Top among the challenges she has faced was a scandal she inherited involving people she did not hire allegedly doing bad things before Ritchie got here.

Two noncertified employees, meaning support staff, were arrested for the alleged sexual assault of students, while a teacher was arrested on the charge of failing to report, as required by law, information she had suggesting students had been victimized and were in danger. All three had some prior criminal background.

Ritchie told us then that a review by a human resources consultant into potential root causes that may have contributed to making the district vulnerable to such a situation was largely complete and, based on the preliminary findings, her administration was already starting to implement steps to correct shortcomings.

Then several months passed with no update and no final report.

The strategy concerning the review appeared to be to give the administration time to get its action plan in place before releasing the completed human resources report. That way the bad news of what past administrations had done wrong could be offset by the reassuring news that Ritchie had taken steps to make sure such things did not happen again.

The problem is that the review by the human resources consultant, which is working for New London schools, is not the only review. Also looking at what happened is the state Office of the Child Advocate. We have editorially backed this fully independent review as necessary to assure the public that no one is being protected in the process of assessing what happened and why.

The child advocate, Sarah Eagan, grew frustrated in not getting the findings of the human resources review and information about the number of paraprofessionals and their assignments, information she needs to help in her own investigation. That annoyance came to light in a Nov. 13 email from Eagan to Ritchie, obtained by The Day under the state Freedom of Information Act.

“To date we have neither received the above information, nor have we been provided with a basis, legal or otherwise, for the District’s failure to provide it,” Eagan wrote, stating further that she might have to resort to subpoenas to force compliance.

News of a lack of cooperation with the Child Advocate does the reputation of New London schools no good. There is no reason the school district could not have months ago shared with Eagan’s office what the human resources review had turned up.

This week the human resources audit, by DeLuca Advisory Services, became available to the Child Advocate and the public. It pointed to poor record keeping, including missing files concerning criminal background checks, drug screenings, and the documenting of mandated reporter and sexual harassment training.

Whether applicant references were checked could not be determined because of the poor record keeping.

The lack of records, of centralized control and of consistent policies appeared most acute concerning paraprofessionals.

Repeated turnover in the administration of New London schools was a contributing factor to these deficiencies, with seven different superintendents or acting superintendents, and seven different human resources directors, over a decade.

But the final report also contains the positive conclusion that great strides have been made in correcting the deficiencies.

“Superintendent Ritchie has led continuous improvements, taking swift action to ensure the best practices in hiring and compliance with state and district requirements,” it states.

The editorial board is bullish on Ritchie’s ability to improve student performance in New London schools and manage the challenging transition to an all-magnet district. We look forward to her establishing a good working relationship with the newly elected Board of Education. As noted in a prior editorial, what New London schools desperately need is some stability at the top.

But it appears her administration, in trying to manage its message, needlessly obstructed the Child Advocate review. And that’s certainly not a message New London schools need to be sending.

 

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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