Providence Supt. Maher not a target of police investigation into school department

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

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Monday school Superintendent Christopher Maher is not the target of a criminal investigation into how his department handled a child molestation case earlier this year.

City officials have been hesitant to release details on a probe that has already led to the arrest of an elementary school physical education teacher for allegedly molesting several children and the school’s principal for failing to report the students’ allegations to the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), but Pare confirmed the city’s top school official is not under investigation.

“He is not the subject of our criminal investigation,” Pare wrote in a text message to Eyewitness News Monday.

In June, police charged Harry Kizirian Elementary School teacher James Duffy with five counts of second-degree child molestation on three different children. Pare said one or two other children have come forward with accusations against Duffy since the arrest, but no additional charges have been filed.

Violet LeMar, the school’s principal, was charged last week with failing to report the molestation claims to DCYF, a misdemeanor. She has pleaded not guilty. The school department has repeatedly acknowledged its failure to contact DCYF, but no one else has been charged. Pare said the investigation is ongoing.

Police executed search warrants on the school department in June, recovering documents and computers as part of the investigation. Emails obtained separately by Eyewitness News showed at least six school employees – including LeMar – were aware of the children’s accusations by May 11, but none of them contacted DCYF.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since LeMar was charged, both Mayor Jorge Elorza and Maher repeatedly said they couldn’t discuss the status of the investigation on Monday morning.

“What we have done is begun a top-to-bottom review of our policies to make sure that everyone is educated on this new policy, to make sure that they’re following the protocol and make sure that everyone is clear whenever this happens or if it were to ever happen again,” Elorza said, referring to a 2016 revision to the state’s mandatory reporting laws that now requires educators to contact DCYF regarding child sexual abuse allegations.

Maher referred most questions to Pare, but said all school administrators have already been trained on the reporting law and teachers will be trained this week.

“All of our principals and assistant principals were trained and on Friday, every school staff person will be retrained to make sure that there are no questions about when and what to report,” Maher said.

Providence School Board President Nicholas Hemond has called for the General Assembly to make changes to the existing state law, suggesting that lawmakers should clarify how DCYF should be contacted when multiple school employees become aware of child molestation accusations.

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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