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Montville school board's assignment

The state of Connecticut gives clear and unequivocal directions to any "mandated reporter" who knows or suspects that a child has been subjected to physical or sexual abuse: Report orally to police or the Department of Children and Families within 12 hours and follow up in writing within 48 hours. Guidance on the DCF website spells out who is mandated to report. That includes school employees.

There can't be any public school administrator in Connecticut who does not know that.

And yet, accounts of how Montville High School administrators handled a female student's report that she was subjected to sexual misconduct by a male teacher appear to show that the timelines were not followed. The student's first report was apparently made to a counselor early in the school day on Sept. 29th; DCF did not hear of it until late in the day Sept. 30th, far beyond 12 hours. By that afternoon, the student's mother had notified Montville police. A call was made to DCF. A spokesman for the department would say only that a report was received at 4:38 p.m. that day, not who made it.

Superintendent of Schools Laurie Pallin said on Oct. 14 that head football coach Tanner Grove was put on paid leave while an investigation is being conducted. She would add only, "We are committed to ensuring the safety and social and emotional well-being of our community." The DCF commissioner, Vanessa Dorantes, confirmed that her department is conducting a "joint investigation with law enforcement into allegations made against an employee at Montville High School."

The Day urges the Montville Board of Education to exercise its authority and responsibility for student welfare and investigate whether the administration followed procedures and the law when they received the student's complaint about Grove. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, damage has already been done to the confidence of students and parents in the administration. Last Thursday, after giving a week's notice that they would do so, 18 students walked out of school and staged a protest of the handling of the allegations near the entrance to the high school.

An internal investigation by the school board into how administrators handled the complaint would not interfere with the criminal investigation by police and DCF. What it would do is avoid the kind of silence that has ultimately hurt Montville and other school systems when they failed to distinguish between protecting student privacy — as they must — and requiring prompt action by statutorily responsible public employees.

In the era of social media, a school district has a very slim chance of containing the damage once the posting starts. Being as transparent as the law allows is not only the right thing to do, it is probably the surest way to avoid becoming part of the problem. It may also help to remind upset students and parents that in the courts a person accused of a criminal act is innocent until proven guilty.

Montville has been through something like this before, when a different high school administration team was found in 2018 to have failed its mandated reporter obligations regarding a classroom "fight club" supervised by a substitute teacher. That case went on for months, by which time three top administrators had left.

The bottom line for the school board, at this stage, is that parents need to know if schools are keeping their kids safe by doing the right thing when they receive a complaint of teacher misconduct. If an internal investigation is underway, the Board of Education needs to own it, not simply "share strategies" to move forward. Students need to be able to trust the adults they confide in. And the Board of Education, itself, needs to know if its top educators think that making the mandated report within the mandated timelines is subject to their best judgment. That is not the way the law is written. 

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, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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