PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The principal at Harry Kizirian Elementary School was charged Tuesday with failing to contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families after learning that a child at the school had accused a physical education teacher of touching her inappropriately.
Violet LeMar, of Somerset, entered a not guilty plea in Providence 6th District Court on Tuesday morning. She turned herself into Providence police earlier in the day. A spokesperson for the school department confirmed LeMar has been placed on administrative leave.
The charges come nearly two months after teacher James Duffy was charged with five counts of second-degree child molestation involving three 11-year-old victims. He was placed on administrative leave in May, but LeMar and other school department officials who were aware of the allegations never contacted DCYF.
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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. The crime is a misdemeanor.
Ania Zielinski, a special assistant attorney general, told Magistrate Joseph Ippolito Jr. that LeMar had direct contact with two of the alleged victims while the school department conducted its own internal investigation, but never contacted DCYF. She said LeMar didn’t contact DCYF until July 5, six days after Duffy was charged.
Zielinski said the school department conducted its own interviews with dozens of children at the school without their parents in attendance. She said the department turned over a 68-page investigative report to the police after a victim’s parent filed a complaint with the police.
The attorney general’s office doesn’t typically handle misdemeanor cases, but Zielinski said her office was handling the prosecution based on a potential conflict of interest; the city solicitor’s office would normally prosecute the case, but it also represents school department employees.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Thomas Gulick, LeMar’s attorney, said his client did report the allegations to the school department’s human resources office. He said LeMar was told to “stand down” while the school department conducted the investigation. He said LeMar also contacted the parents of two of the alleged victims.
Gulick said LeMar was never trained on the mandatory reporting law, which state lawmakers revised last year to require school employees to contact DCYF if they learn that a child has been sexually abused by another school employee or volunteer.
“She’s the principal so obviously that has something to do with it,” Gulick said. “I don’t know why it’s just her when she did report to numerous people. Her number one concern is the safety of the students in the school.”
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare didn’t rule out that others could be charged in the criminal investigation. A Target 12 report Monday revealed at least six employees – including LeMar – were aware of the student’s accusations on May 11. The district has refused to say whether other employees had knowledge of the incident. Superintendent Chris Maher refused to speak with the media.
“The law was passed last year,” Pare said. “There has been recent publicity in another city with bringing that violation against a school official and so when a law is passed, it’s like you and I and anyone else, we have to keep track of laws that have been passed.”
Pare disclosed than one or two other children have come forward to make accusations against Duffy, but no additional charges have been filed.
LeMar is the second individual this year to be charged with failing to follow Rhode Island’s mandatory reporting law, which took effect at the start of this year. In April, a psychologist at Cranston West High School, George Blessing, was charged with not reporting alleged sexual abuse.
After acknowledging that it failed to follow proper protocols, the Providence School Department 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.
LeMar is scheduled to appear in court again Sept. 18. The maximum penalty for failing to report to DCYF is one year in prison.