After mishandling child molestation case, Providence school leaders get DCYF training

Providence School Supt. Chris Maher speaks to a group of school administrators. (Photo by Rosie Woods/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With Providence police still investigating why no school employee contacted the R.I. Department of Child, Youth and Families (DCYF) after several children accused an elementary school teacher of touching them inappropriately earlier this year, every school administrator in the city was trained Friday on the state’s mandatory reporting requirements on child abuse.

The training, held at Del Sesto Middle School, was scheduled following the arrest of James Duffy, a Harry Kizirian Elementary School physical education teacher who was charged on June 29 with five counts of child molestation on three 11-year-old victims.

While the school department placed Duffy on leave immediately after the accusations were made in May, the district confirmed no one in the city contacted DCYF even though state law requires abuse allegations to be reported to the agency within 24 hours. Failure to report can lead to a misdemeanor charge.

“In some states, professionals are mandated reporters,” Stephanie Terry, the assistant director of child protection services at DCYF, told the administrators. “In Rhode Island, everyone is a mandated reporter.”

Administrators were given a broad overview of the state law and Terry went over different scenarios when it comes to mandated reporting. The press was asked to leave for the second half of the session, which was designed for questions and answers. The training came at no cost to the district.

Students are scheduled to return to Providence schools on Sept. 5. Providence Police Major David Lapatin said Friday the criminal investigation remains active. Police executed search warrants at the school department and Kizirian school on the day Duffy was arrested.

Speaking with reporters before the training, Supt. Chris Maher said the school department has conducted an internal investigation into why DCYF wasn’t contacted, but “we’ve been asked to take a step back on some of the areas” while police conduct the criminal investigation. Maher is not ruling out disciplinary action against individuals who failed to report the allegations.

Maher said the goal of Friday’s training was to make “sure that everybody understands comprehensively what the reporting requirements are in the state.” The Providence School Board has also formed a child abuse prevention working group.

“We have a training like this on a regular basis, but according to DCYF, I think we are the first district that is going to have a comprehensive training for every single employee in the district,” Maher said.

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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