Emails: At least 6 Providence school employees were aware of alleged child molestation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In the days after a Providence elementary school teacher was placed on leave for allegedly touching a student inappropriately, at least six school department employees who were aware of the allegations failed to contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families, Target 12 has learned.

School department emails obtained through a public records request show the six employees – including several administrators – were made aware of a written statement from a student regarding Harry Kizirian Elementary School teacher James Duffy on May 11, two days after he was placed on administrative leave.

Rhode Island law requires anyone who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been the victim of sexual abuse to report it to DCYF within 24 hours, but the school department has said none of its employees contacted the agency regarding the allegations against Duffy.

“The Providence Public School District has acknowledged that its personnel did not contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families after allegations were made against a Kizirian Elementary School teacher,” Laura Hart, a spokesperson for the school department, said in a statement. “While the district immediately removed the accused individual from the workplace and put him on leave, it recognizes that its failure to contact DCYF was unacceptable and has since taken a number of proactive steps to ensure that proper reporting protocols will always be followed in the future.”

Duffy was charged on June 29 with five counts of second-degree child molestation involving three 11-year-old victims. An attorney for Duffy said Monday his client maintains his innocence.

On the same day Duffy was charged, Providence Police executed search warrants at the school department and Kizirian School as part of an investigation that remains active. Failure to report to DCYF is a misdemeanor.

The school department has declined to say how employees were aware of the allegations against Duffy, but the limited number of emails it released to Target 12 show at least three central office employees and three employees at the school did have knowledge of the situation by May 11.

Target 12 is not identifying the six employees because none of them have been charged with a crime.

In an email with the subject line “Parent Concern” sent at 9:14 a.m. on May 11, one employee explained that a student’s mother came to the school and handed in a written statement from her child claiming Duffy touched the child inappropriately during lunch. The employee said a school social worker was made aware of the incident because the “student is struggling with the situation.”

At 9:30 a.m., another school department employee sent a reply to say “we are conducting our investigation.” Three other school employees were also copied on the email. The school department employee said Duffy was placed on leave on May 9.

The school employee replied to explain that the parent was told Duffy was not in the building, “but that I could not divulge any more information as we were investigating the matter.”

In a complaint filed with Providence police on May 11, one of the alleged victim’s parents said the school “never called her to inform her of her daughter’s allegations.” It is unclear if the parent who filed the police report is the same parent who came to the school that morning because names were redacted from both the incident report and the emails.

In an email Monday, Kerri White, a spokesperson for DCYF, said the agency could not comment on the Providence case, but “everyone in Rhode Island is a mandated reporter” and “anyone who has knowledge of alleged sexual abuse of a child by a teacher/school volunteer/etc. is mandated to report this information to DCYF within 24 hours.”

Asked if DCYF wants every school employee who becomes aware of alleged child abuse to contact the agency, White said schools have taken difference approaches to reporting. She said some schools have held a conference call with DCYF and all professionals with knowledge of a complaint participating in the discussion. Other schools have had the person with the most firsthand information make the call, but White said they must provide DCYF with the “roles and contact information for all other professionals who have the same or additional information.”

In the months following Duffy’s arrest, Providence has required all school employees to be trained on the state reporting laws. The Providence School Board has also establishing a work group to discuss child abuse prevention.

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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

Walt Buteau (wbuteau@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.