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New London schools owe an innocent man (Paul Craig) an apology

New London — The facts of this case begin and end here: Paul Craig is innocent. He always has been. There is no debate.

And yet the residual effects of the shameful treatment he's received from New London Public Schools remain an albatross, sadly preventing him from pursuing the only vocation he's ever cared about: teaching.

Craig was an All-Area football player, graduating from New London High in 2011 and from Nichols College four years later with a degree in mathematics. He was a long-term substitute at Bennie Dover from Jan. 2018 to May 2019, working toward his teaching certification to stay home and teach New London kids, when the city he loves betrayed him.

"I definitely want to tell people about my situation," Craig was saying earlier this week. "Some people just know me from that article in the paper. I'm just the kid who would make a big play and just hand the ball back to the ref. I've tried the stay humble, do the right thing and give back to the city."

The "article" to which Craig refers appeared in The Day on May 24, 2019. Craig was placed on paid administrative leave because of allegations of inappropriate interactions with students. What was never reported subsequently: Less than a week later, an investigation from the Department of Children and Families found the allegations unsubstantiated.

The accusations were leveled at a time when the school system was in crisis, following the arrest of Corriche Gaskin, the former middle school employee who sexually assaulted two underage girls.

"In May 2019 I get a phone call and a letter saying I was placed on administrative leave," Craig said. "I had no idea what it was about. Zero. I was just trying to go to Bennie Dover every day and create a positive environment for the kids and the families. It's been a terrible experience. I'll never forget that day."

And yet what follows is almost unfathomable, except Craig has the documentation to prove it:

• New London schools never notified Craig that the contract of Taryn Bonner, the Human Resources Director at the time, had expired, leaving Craig with nobody with whom to communicate about his plight.

• New London's letter placing Craig on administrative leave is dated May 23, 2019. DCF's letter to Craig absolving him is dated May 21, 2019. That means DCF's investigation had concluded and Craig was innocent at the time Craig got his letter from the school system.

• Craig has never received an apology from anyone in the school system. Worse, nobody in Central Office will help Craig by filling out forms ED 125 and ED 126 — statements documenting professional experience — that will help Craig get his teaching certification.

In Craig's words:

"(Bonner) was the only one I could contact about the situation. I couldn't have any contact with the kids or the staff," he said. "Come to find out a week or two after I got that letter, and I am trying to e-mail her and call her, that she got another job and left the district. Nobody told me. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting any response and it turned out I was basically e-mailing and calling nobody.

"I'm calling about a fact-finding hearing about my situation that was supposed to be scheduled. I needed to talk to somebody. I was all for it. I needed to be heard. Nobody was reaching back to me."

Keep in mind that Craig had already been cleared by DCF by this point, but couldn't get anyone's attention in Central Office.

"I waited till June when school year ended. I wanted to know when this fact finding hearing would be," Craig said. "I show up at Central Office and they're all looking at me like I have seven heads. I kept telling them there was an article about me. I'm trying to find out what's going on. Nobody knows anything, who I am or why I was there."

Craig said he went to the New London police next, hoping that perhaps the process could be better explained.

"The officer was very sympathetic and apologetic, saying he was sorry it happened to me," Craig said. "I asked him where we go from here. The school system is telling me I can't come back until my name gets cleared by DCF. DCF cleared me.

"The police told me they don't really have anything to do with the school system. They could clear my name legally, but couldn't talk to school system for me. So I had a DCF worker who knew my case accompany me to Central Office to explain. They were all too busy to see me."

Craig wants to work his way back into education. He knows he taught for more than a year at Bennie Dover — experience that will shorten the time required to get certified.

"This messed up the whole process of me trying to get my certification," Craig said. "I thought (Central Office) would at least fill out the ED 125 and ED 126 forms and send them to the state. Once those are filled out, I'd either get my certification or learn where I've fallen short. I never got that form back from Central Office. It's like I have no record of working there. All that experience was for nothing. They could have at least told me they weren't going to do it."

And we wonder why people in communities of color have negative perceptions about the institutions in place? Technically, New London may not owe Craig anything as he is no longer an employee. But is there room to be human here?

If New London really wants people of color to work here, its educational hierarchy needs to do better. And be better. If this is what happens to a young Black man — and Craig wasn't the only one accused — how many others are honestly going to apply here?

Craig most recently worked as a long-term sub at Civic Leadership, a high school in Enfield, where Jeff Larson, Craig's old football coach at New London, is the principal. Larson knew and believed in Craig's innocence.

"I appreciate Jeff for helping me out," Craig said. "But people there looked at me funny. I'm a young, Black male who could relate to kids, sure. But coming up all the way from New London every day? As soon as they googled my name, I know what they saw. The people who know me knew the facts. But other people don't. That hurts. I definitely feel betrayal."

To recap: Paul Craig is a young Black man who was educated in the city. He is a college graduate with a math degree. He taught here for more than a year, totally innocent of all allegations. And was treated shamefully.

Makes you wonder: In New London, do they have your back, or is that where they want to stab you?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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