Providence school administrators to be retrained after apparent mishandling of molestation case

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence School Board is taking steps to address the apparent mishandling of abuse allegations against an elementary school gym teacher.

At an emergency meeting Wednesday night, the board asked Superintendent Chris Maher to present the district’s current emergency protocols following the arrest of James Duffy.

Providence School Board President Nicholas Hemond said there wasn’t a failure to have protocols, but rather a failure to follow protocols.

“There’s an existing structure in place that works on a daily basis,” he said. It’s just a matter of making sure that everybody’s trained to follow that and to make sure that it’s updated and reflects best practices.”

Duffy, 53, a gym teacher at Harry Kizirian Elementary School, was placed on paid administrative leave after three female students reported being inappropriately touched by him.

Under state law, anyone who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been the victim of sexual abuse must report it to the DCYF within 24 hours. However, the agency said it was never contacted by the school department and didn’t learn of the allegations until about six weeks later.

Hemond said last week he was “extremely frustrated” by how school officials handled the investigation. He said at the meeting that he had questions just like everyone else.

“How did it happen? Why did it happen? What is supposed to happen in situations like this?” Hemond asked.

The board decided that all school administrators must be retrained on the department’s emergency protocols and laws before the next school year and scheduled a training for August 4.

“I don’t care whether they’ve been with the district for a year or whether they’ve been with the district for 25 years. I expect everybody to be retrained,” Hemond added.

They also created a working group to review the district’s policies, which will include members of the DCYF and city police.

“We’ll probably have the first meeting of that working group in the next couple of weeks,” Hemond said.

The board also said it plans to conduct its own investigation into what happened and look into disciplinary action, but Providence police have asked the board to wait until their investigation is completed.

In the meantime, Hemond said it won’t stop them from reviewing their policies.

Hemond said currently the emergency protocols are substantially reviewed and revised every three years. The mandatory reporting to DCYF didn’t come about until last year, which was not a year the policies were reviewed. Hemond said going forward, the policies will be reviewed every year.

In the meantime, he wanted to reassure parents that their children are safe.

“The most important thing they should know is that in this situation the person alleged to have committed the most egregious act was removed right away, as soon as we heard about it,”  Hemond said.