PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families wasn’t contacted about a Providence elementary school gym teacher accused of molesting multiple students until June 20, six weeks after he was placed on paid administrative leave.
A spokesperson for DCYF confirmed the agency first received a report on Harry Kizirian Elementary School teacher James Duffy last week. She said no one at the Providence Public School Department had contacted DCYF as of Friday at noon. Eyewitness News contacted the school department about the accusations against Duffy on June 20.
Duffy, 53, was charged Thursday on five counts of child molestation involving three 11-year-old victims. He was placed on leave from his job May 9, according to Laura Hart, a spokesperson for the school department.
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Hart has acknowledged school officials failed to contact DCYF immediately, even though Rhode Island law requires that anyone who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been the victim of sexual abuse reports 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.”
Aside from DCYF, Providence police have said they weren’t contacted about the accusations until the parent of a child filed a police report on May 11. A human resources worker for the district interviewed students about the accusations prior to police getting involved. The police executed search warrants at the school department and the school Thursday.
The school department’s apparent mishandling of the investigation has prompted acting City Council President Sabina Matos to call for an “independent investigation” on the case. School Board President Nicholas Hemond has called an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss district protocol.
In his first public statement on the investigation Friday, Supt. Chris Maher called the allegations against Duffy “deeply disturbing to our entire community.” He stressed that Duffy was immediately placed on leave when the school became aware of
The allegations at Harry Kizirian Elementary School are deeply disturbing to our entire community. It is important to remember that, immediately upon hearing of the accusation, the teacher was removed from the school, and has not returned since.
“Presently, there is a criminal investigation underway of the events that led up to the arrest,” Maher said. “Once completed, the district will take the appropriate personnel actions based on information and recommendations provided by that investigation.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this report stated Providence schools contacted DCYF on June 20. The school department had not contacted DCYF at all as of Friday at noon.