Matos calls for ‘independent investigation’ into handling of school molestation case

Acting Council President Sabina Matos. (Photo by Corey Welch/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The acting president of the Providence City Council said Thursday she wants an independent investigation into school officials’ failure to contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families after several children reported a gym teacher touched them inappropriately.

James Duffy, a 53-year-old teacher at Harry Kizirian Elementary School, was arraigned in District Court Thursday morning on five counts of child molestation on three 11-year-old victims. A pre-arraignment conference is set for Sept. 21.

“It is a fundamental requirement of every adult in every school to ensure absolute safety for every child,” acting President Sabina Matos said in a statement. “Policies, procedures, and laws are in place to support that requirement. I am calling for an independent investigation to bring to light what happened when school officials learned of this horrific, disturbing allegation. Providence families deserve that information, and this situation demands the transparency of an independent investigation.”

Laura Hart, a spokesperson for the school district, has acknowledged school leaders did not immediately contact DCYF, even though Rhode Island law requires anyone who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been the victim of sexual abuse must report it to the agency within 24 hours.

Hart said the district is now reviewing “both its safety protocols and its school leadership training to make sure that all parties understand and execute their responsibilities when these types of allegations are made.”

Duffy was placed on administrative leave from his $79,925-a-year job on May 9, a complaint filed two days later with police by a parent of one of the victims stated she had not been contacted by the school. Providence police did not interview any of the alleged victims until last week.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan