EDITORIAL: Choate again investigates allegations against staff

EDITORIAL: Choate again investigates allegations against staff

Record-Journal
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Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal

Once again, Choate Rosemary Hall has commissioned a law firm to conduct a private investigation into allegations of improper behavior toward students by teachers at the school. In the report issued this month, no basis was found “to take any action against any current faculty member.”

A previous report, also initiated by the school, was spurred by an article in The Boston Globe about charges of sexual misbehavior by faculty members at a number of preparatory schools, including Choate.

Released in April, that report revealed that 12 former Choate teachers had sexually abused students over a period stretching back to the 1960s, but mostly during the 1980s.

The claims of abuse included “intimate kissing, intimate touching and sexual intercourse” as well as “forced or coerced intercourse.”

Newspaper reports of that investigation then led to allegations by several former students against people still on the Choate faculty, for which no action will be taken.

That may be appropriate — we don’t know the details of those allegations, and the statute of limitations in such cases is very short. Furthermore, prosecutors would typically look at a number of factors before going ahead with legal action in such cases.

While Choate deserves some credit for initiating the investigations that yielded the April and August reports, what’s striking here is the fact that two institutions that might have been able to protect those minors against abuse — DCF and the Wallingford Police Department — were left largely, or completely, in the dark about what was going on.

Wallingford Police Chief William Wright said he was not made aware of the most recent investigation.

As this newspaper said in an editorial shortly after the April report came out, it’s very disturbing that such behavior, involving a school in the heart of Wallingford, never drew the involvement of police. “Those poor students,” Town Council Vice Chairman Tom Laffin said at the time, “feeling like they were trapped, with teachers acting as if they are on an island in Wallingford, untouchable by law.”

This needs to change.

The General Assembly should seriously consider extending the statute of limitations for crimes against minors. Unlike adults, they may be confused and intimidated by the power and position of a teacher, and may not have the self-confidence to resist — or report — such abuse.

As for the law, it is incumbent upon Choate — or any school, for that matter — to report not only abuse of children, but even suspicion of abuse, and to do so immediately. Under Connecticut law, that means within 12 hours, not 30 years.

“Failure to report is a serious matter,” said Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesman for DCF.

Sadly, what we’ve learned is that failure to report has been the rule, not exception, and for far too long.

This needs to change.


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