NFA releases documents on two suspended faculty members

Norwich — Two Norwich Free Academy faculty members placed on paid leave in January were reinstated through sharply different paths that included unpaid suspensions for failing to report allegations in April 2017 that a coach was having sexual relations with a student, documents released by NFA showed.

NFA released several documents to The Day on Friday through a Freedom of Information Act request that pertain to the paid leave, investigation, disciplinary action and ultimate reinstatement of Susan Hopkins-Terrell, head of the Health and Physical Education Department, and Denise Grant, who returned as the new director of the College and Career Resource Center.

Grant, the former director of curriculum and instruction, was given a 10-day unpaid suspension prior to her return to campus Sept. 3, while Hopkins-Terrell agreed to a three-day unpaid suspension in an Aug. 5 settlement signed by her, Head of School David Klein and the two co-presidents of the Education Association of NFA.

While Hopkins-Terrell’s settlement stated that she and the union agreed they will not file any grievances or other claims in response to the suspension, an attorney for Grant has stated she intends to file suit alleging retaliation by NFA. Attorney Magdalena Wiktor also unsuccessfully sought compensation for four weeks of paid vacation Grant argued she lost because she was instructed to remain available throughout the paid leave for possible meetings with Klein “on short notice.”

The disciplinary action stemmed from the school’s response to allegations that surfaced in April 2017 that then-coach Anthony Facchini was engaged in a sexual relationship with a student. Grant first learned of the allegation, discussed the possibility with Hopkins-Terrell and then reported it to then-Campus Safety Director Kevin Rodino.

Rodino discussed the allegation in meetings with Klein, Director of Student Affairs John Iovino and then-Athletic Director Eric Swallow and closed the investigation after Facchini and the student denied the allegation. A second allegation involving Facchini and a different student arose 14 months later and led to Facchini’s arrest on two charges of second-degree sexual assault.

According to the released documents and correspondence, both Grant and Hopkins-Terrell were placed on paid leave Jan. 23 “in connection with circumstances first arising in April 2017 which require further investigation and review,” their identical letters stated. The two were advised to remain available during regular school hours to meet with Klein and possibly other officials “on short notice.”

On July 19, each was called to a separate pre-disciplinary hearing regarding their roles in the April 2017 investigation.

Hopkins-Terrell’s one-page Aug. 5 settlement agreement makes only one reference to the specific incident, saying she “was involved in an incident first arising in April 2017 connected to the knowledge of and reporting and/or non-reporting of certain information regarding a student.”

Hopkins-Terrell told The Day at the start of the school year she never had any specific information about allegations that Facchini was having a relationship with a student to report to the state, but because she agreed with Grant that she felt the issue was brushed aside and didn’t report it, she was placed on leave.

Hopkins-Terrell said at the time she didn’t agree with the discipline but said: “I’m hoping for a good year. I’m moving on, with my family, my husband, my mom, all my family.”

Klein on Aug. 9 issued a two-page disciplinary order to Grant, with stronger, more specific wording, alleging Grant “had reasonable cause to suspect” that a student was being abused and despite being a mandated reporter under state law, failed to report the suspicion to the state Department of Children and Families. Klein also wrote that Grant violated NFA written policy by not reporting to DCF and to him as head of school.

Klein also wrote that in her report to Rodino, Grant was “not completely forthcoming,” telling him she didn’t recall where she learned of the allegation.

“You said that you felt dismissed, brushed aside, and upset about the handling of your report to Kevin Rodino,” Klein wrote. “Nevertheless, you did not notify me of the situation despite our roles as lead NFA administrators, not to mention the proximity of our offices to one another.”

The two-page order imposed the 10-day suspension and assigned Grant to her new position but with no salary change.

In June, prior to the Aug. 9 discipline, Grant’s attorney wrote to NFA board of trustees Chairwoman Sarette Williams seeking payment for four weeks of paid vacation Grant said she couldn’t use because of the request that she remain available on short notice to a possible meeting.

Attorney Wiktor’s letter also stated that she and Grant raised a concern during a December interview by the outside investigator hired by the board of trustees that Grant’s “candid cooperation with the investigation could be used as an opportunity for retaliation, particularly by Mr. Klein should the NFA Board delegate its own authority to him.”

The board of trustees in January cleared Klein of wrongdoing in its investigation and authorized him to take any administrative action he deemed appropriate. A week later, Klein placed Grant, Hopkins-Terrell and Rodino on paid leave. Rodino was arrested on several charges by Norwich police in February and submitted his retirement from NFA at the end of June. On Friday, a Norwich Superior Court judge approved his application for accelerated rehabilitation, which would clear his record in a year if he follows court-ordered conditions.

In a response to Wiktor, NFA attorney Kyle McClain denied Grant’s request for vacation pay, saying she never was ordered not to go on vacation and never submitted any requests for specific vacation days.

“Please be assured,” McClain wrote, “that NFA and the (board of trustees) are opposed to and forbid retaliating, coercing, intimidating, threatening or interfering with an individual because he or she has reported or opposed to any discriminatory act or practice or because that person has filed a charge, testified, assisted or participated in an investigation, proceeding or hearing.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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