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    Wednesday, August 10, 2022

    New London schools hiring audit reveals need for better organization

    New London — School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie presented a much-anticipated human resources audit to the school board on Tuesday — a deep-dive into personnel files and record keeping practices over the past five years that turned up a system in relative disarray.  

    The audit revealed missing paperwork that reflected a failure to maintain proof that certain procedures, checks, and training were completed, such as sexual harassment and mandated reporter training. While the paperwork was not always on file, documents were discovered in other places, such as the schools where the employees worked, the report shows.

    The audit was conducted by DeLuca Advisory Services at Ritchie’s request and was being presented to the school board at press time. The Day had not yet acquired a copy of the report but has a pending Freedom of Information request for the material.

    DeLuca reviewed 438 personnel files of all employees hired over the last five years who are still employed by the district. All district employee files were reviewed for criminal background checks.

    “There was no consistent protocol for ensuring new employees met all requirements and that HR maintained completed documentation,” a summary of the report reads in part. “School-based administrators often maintained their own documentation and conducted their own processes … NLPS lacked a comprehensive and universal system for tracking the employee hiring process and maintaining personnel files.”

    One of the recommendations from the audit is to create a compliance specialist position to oversee background checks and ensure fingerprint checks are returned and filed.

    The purpose of the audit was to evaluate the status of the contents of the files, to ensure the district’s human resources department was following best practices and to determine whether the office was in compliance with applicable rules and regulations.

    The audit contains information requested by the state Child Advocate Sarah Eagan, who earlier this month had warned the district of potential legal action and more subpoenas if the document was not handed over as part of her office’s ongoing investigation into student safety and abuse prevention in the district.

    The investigation, which in part is expected to look at how employees are hired and monitored, was prompted by the arrest of three middle school employees in the past year. Two of them were working as non-certified paraprofessionals and charged with sexual assault. Two also had criminal records when they were hired.

    The most egregious charges are related to former high school paraprofessional Corriche Gaskin, who was advanced to a position as a school climate specialist and charged with sexually assaulting two young female students in 2017.

    Ritchie said the final hiring audit document, commissioned in June, was not yet completed at the time Eagan sent a Nov. 16 email critical of the lack of communication.

    In an interview with The Day on Tuesday, Eagan said Ritchie was making a “good faith effort,” to comply with requests from her office.

    “Our job is to be independent and thorough, not adverse and hostile,” Eagan said. “We are a public agency with a public charge. Our only purpose here is to fulfill that charge. Period. If we can do that in a way that ends up working closely with the district on a final and sustainable action plan, then we welcome that.”

    Having an independent and neutral investigation, which is likely to end with recommendations to the district, will ultimately have a reassuring effect on the New London community, Eagan said. She said her office worked closely with the school district in Hartford and the result was development of an action plan jointly presented to the public.

    Ritchie, hired as superintendent last summer before the scandal surfaced, said she spoke to Eagan on Tuesday.

    “We are on track in our work together and look forward to meeting sometime before the December break,” Ritchie said in an email. “Our district continues to move ahead implementing strong systems and structures, while welcoming any other ideas of guidance and support.”

    Ritchie said the district continues to provide Eagan’s office with requested materials.

    ”Most district and building-level administrators, who were leaders at the time of the incidents, are no longer present. This makes the multi-year compilation of historical materials, which OCA requested, complex,” Ritchie said.

    “We are putting great effort into working with OCA, while continuing to move the district forward. Students remain our top priority,” Ritchie said.

    Tuesday was the last meeting for the current Board of Education. Susan Tierney, Rebecca Amanti, Jason Catala, Mirna Martinez and President Manny Rivera depart to make way for a new crop of members just elected.

    G.smith@theday.com

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