3 Montville school administrators charged with failure to report fights
Montville — State police on Thursday charged three school administrators with failing to report fights that took place in a substitute teacher’s classroom last fall.
Arrested were 45-year-old Superintendent Brian C. Levesque, 64-year-old Principal Jeffrey Theodoss and 59-year-old Assistant Principal Tatiana Patten.
Under state law, teachers and administrators are mandated reporters who must alert the state Department of Children and Families "when they have a suspicion that a child has been abused or neglected," DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said this past weekend. Failure to report is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison, up to a $2,000 fine, or both.
In an arrest warrant affidavit released Thursday, police said they found evidence that all three should have had that suspicion. They also found a text message, sent by Theodoss, that directed Patten "not to say anything to anyone," the affidavit states.
State police last week arrested Ryan Fish, 23, for allegedly supervising multiple slap-fighting bouts in October. School officials, aware of at least one of the fights, fired the substitute math teacher Oct. 10.
Kleeblatt said DCF referred the case to the Chief State's Attorney's Office in late December or early January because no school officials alerted authorities following Fish's firing.
Several of the fights were caught on video, but Levesque has said he was only aware of one incident at the time of Fish's firing.
"If I had known the severity of this and the number of instances ... we would have called police and DCF," he said last week.
Levesque, sitting in the lobby of the Troop E barracks in Montville, declined to comment Thursday morning. Patten did not answer her phone and her voicemail box was full Thursday night, and a voice message left for a number listed for Theodoss was not returned.
Assistant Superintendent Laurie Pallin said Levesque and Theodoss have been placed on leave pending the outcomes of an internal investigation and their criminal cases. Patten has been on leave since January.
"Today is a sad day for our district," Pallin said in a statement, describing the administrators as "well-known and highly respected."
Pallin said she cannot legally address much about the investigation, of which she was not a part. But she said the district would "not let this current situation define who and what we are."
"The incident that occurred in a high school classroom was unacceptable, but it is an exception to how Montville Public Schools operate — it does not illustrate the priority we place on student safety," Pallin said.
Ann Baldwin, a district spokeswoman, said Thursday that Fish sent Patten an email about Sept. 25 indicating he was in over his head because of the content of the math course. But Fish, who was hired in August and was filling in for a staff member on medical leave, remained a substitute in the class.
Baldwin noted that Fish's mother, Cheryl Fish, a longtime math teacher at the high school, had no role in his hiring.
Police said all three administrators turned themselves in to Troop E when they learned Norwich Superior Court had issued warrants for their arrests.
All three were released and are due back in court on May 3.
'Hours into a storm'
It was unclear who is in charge of administration for the district and high school. But Baldwin said it will be up to the Board of Education to manage staffing responsibilities while the administrators are on leave.
School board Chairman Robert Mitchell said in an interview that he was aware of the arrests and described the situation as a "pending personnel matter. We'll do our due diligence and do what we have to do."
The Board of Education called an executive session to discuss the matter Thursday evening. The Freedom of Information Act generally requires all public agencies to open their meetings, but closed-door executive sessions can be called under limited circumstances, including to discuss individual officers or employees. No votes were taken at the meeting, Mitchell said.
"We expect that our legal counsel will be advising us on what we have to do legally, as well as what our options are for moving the district forward," Mitchell told reporters at a news conference before the session. "We are hours into a storm and we are just beginning a legal process to get us to the next steps."
Pallin noted during the news conference that classes resume Monday after this week's spring break.
"Our goal is to welcome our students and teachers back and provide them with the confidence that this situation is being handled effectively and that all they need to do is focus on learning," she said.
The pair did not answer questions.
The arrest warrant affidavit
In December, an arrest warrant affidavit states, Patten said she learned on Oct. 10 about a "fight club" in Fish's classroom. She told police "multiple cellphone videos had surfaced of multiple kids slap-fighting during class."
But in January, Patten allegedly said she learned about the fights several days earlier than that date.
On Oct. 6, a school guidance counselor relayed a message to Patten from an anonymous parent. The parent wanted the school to know about a fighting incident in Fish's class, Patten told detectives. Patten said that at the time, "there was no evidence that this had occurred," though the parent had reported there was video footage of the slapboxing.
Patten told detectives that two days later, she received an email from Theodoss containing a video of a classroom fight, which she confirmed was filmed at the high school and in which Fish was visible.
"Patten then stated that she received a text message from Principal Theodoss which instructed her not to say anything to anyone and that he would find out if this was an arrestable offense," police said in the affidavit. Police noted Patten showed detectives the text message.
Detectives asked her if there was discussion about contacting DCF or police, to which Patten said "there was discussion, but she did not hear of anything more."
In January, Theodoss told detectives that over the first weekend in October, he received an email from Levesque containing a video of two boys fighting in class. Theodoss said the video had come from a parent, and he forwarded it to Patten to confirm it was at the high school and that the teacher in the video was Fish.
Theodoss told detectives he asked Levesque if police should be notified, and Levesque said no. Asked by detectives if he contacted DCF, Theodoss said he didn't believe it was a DCF issue, police said.
On Jan. 17, Levesque told detectives that on Oct. 5, a Board of Education member sent him a video showing "two male students fighting in class and an adult male wearing a school identification not intervening," according to the affidavit.
Levesque told detectives he forwarded the video to Theodoss, who on Oct. 9 told the superintendent that Fish admitted he allowed students to fight in class.
Levesque said he fired Fish for "failing to protect the safety of students" but he also told detectives he "did not think it was criminal and thought it was a one-time incident," police said.
Levesque told police he felt the students involved in the fight he saw on video "also had culpability in this incident," according to the warrant. Levesque said Theodoss sent him an email to let him know the "students involved in the fight were all disciplined."
Police only became aware of the fights in December, when a DCF social worker told them a 15-year-old student had reported being assaulted by three students during school. A mobile crisis worker assisted the teenager and Montville police Officer Karen Moorehead went to the emergency room to investigate.
Moorehead, through subsequent investigation, obtained multiple video recordings of fights that had taken place in Fish's classroom.
A DCF social worker filed complaints against Patten on Dec. 19 and Theodoss and Levesque on Jan. 10, police said.
"The allegations made here that serve as the basis for the arrests in Montville are deeply concerning," said Sarah Eagan, the state child advocate. "The district must take all necessary steps to ensure it has a robust and reliable system for preventing and reporting abuse and neglect of children ... and a transparent dialogue with families and community members about how such work will be done."
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