NFA trustees to conduct independent investigation into sexual assault allegations

Norwich — The Norwich Free Academy board of trustees has hired an independent attorney to investigate issues involving the recent sexual assault arrest of a former assistant coach and ongoing police investigation into the academy staff’s response to the allegations, board Chairwoman Sarette Williams said at Thursday’s annual meeting of the trustees and NFA corporators.

Williams likened the arrest and investigation to “earthquakes,” comparing NFA to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which only recently was retrofitted for seismic isolators designed to protect its structure in an earthquake.

“While the recent events have been difficult to bear, we fail only to the extent we do not let these events teach us what we need to learn,” Williams said.

She referred to the “oath of fidelity” corporators and trustees took at the start of Thursday’s meeting, and said academy leaders need to ensure that their trust, loyalty and financial support are well placed.

“Therefore, as your chairperson, on your behalf, I have retained professional resources to ensure that the board of trustees are independently informed about the facts of these matters,” Williams told the corporators and trustees Thursday. “For our long-term operational and ethical integrity and for the well-being of its current students and future students, NFA is managing these issues comprehensively.”

On Sept. 12, Anthony Facchini, 25, of Norwich was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault for allegedly having sexual relations with two NFA students while he was an assistant coach at the school. NFA fired Facchini July 12 during the police and state Department of Children and Families investigation.

But also on Sept. 12, city police with assistance from the FBI Computer Analysis Response Team and the Connecticut State Police Computer Crimes Unit, executed a search and seizure warrant on NFA campus for computers and equipment in connection with the investigation. State’s Attorney Michael Regan said in court this week that the investigation includes whether NFA staff failed to report the allegations to DCF, as required by law for mandatory reporters of alleged abuse or neglect of children. Four search warrants are sealed until Nov. 28, Facchini’s next appearance in New London Superior Court.

Former NFA Athletic Director Eric Swallow resigned Sept. 10, with no explanation provided by the school or Swallow.

Williams said Head of School David Klein and school administrators have met regularly with her and the full board of trustees regularly to keep them informed of the events and the school’s response.

“We are satisfied that his office is responding with deliberate and comprehensive urgency to address internal concerns related to these issues, including cooperating fully with representatives of the law enforcement community,” Williams said.

She referred to the “oath of fidelity” corporators and trustees took at the start of Thursday’s meeting, and said academy leaders need to ensure that their trust, loyalty and financial support are well placed.

“Therefore, as your chairperson, on your behalf, I have retained professional resources to ensure that the board of trustees are independently informed about the facts of these matters,” Williams told the corporators and trustees Thursday. “For our long-term operational and ethical integrity and for the well-being of its current students and future students, NFA is managing these issues comprehensively.”

Williams also referred to new administrative processes “which make for more robust internal compliance.”

During a fire alarm that disrupted Thursday’s annual meeting in the Sidney Frank Center on campus, Williams declined to identify the independent counsel retained on the board’s behalf.

Klein said the new process was a decision announced at the time of Swallow’s resignation to shift management of athletic personnel records permanently from the Athletic Office to Human Resources to be managed by Academy Director of Human Resources, Cyndee Finger, and her staff.

Klein said Thursday he saw no reason to change the training policy that he said all adults on the NFA campus are required to take annually regarding mandatory reporting of alleged abuse of students. The training includes an online course followed by a test upon completion.

“We require the training every single year for every single person on the campus,” Klein said.

Williams agreed the staff training is adequate and said NFA officials and the board has kept corporators, parents and students informed of the investigation as much as privacy and confidentiality has allowed.

Although the police and DCF investigation started June 11, NFA did not notify parents of the investigation until Saturday, Aug. 25, as news of the investigation was about to be published in the media.

“I want to emphasize that for as long as NFA stands, it will be challenged by both unexpected, as well as planned and anticipated, changes,” Williams said. “Where the need for change is indicated, corporators and the administration must always be prepared to embrace to do what is needed and to retrofit, while concurrently fulfilling the NFA mission. Crises can create chaos or clarity.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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