Mandatory reporting charges provoke requests for more training on law

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A misdemeanor charge against a Providence principal who allegedly did not report claims of child molestation to the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) has prompted several requests for training on the nuances of the state law, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.

DCYF Director Trista Piccola said two to three additional requests a week are coming into the agency since Violet LeMar was charged with one count of failure to report child abuse or neglect. LeMar, the principal at Harry Kizirian Elementary School, pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor earlier this month.

And since then?

“We’ve had a lot more requests [for training],” Piccola said. “And not just from schools, but from other agencies who want to make sure that they understand the law and that they’re doing the right thing by reporting.”

LeMar, whose case is tied to the arrest of teacher James Duffy on five counts of second-degree child molestation, was the second educator charged under the mandatory reporting law since if was changed last year to make it a misdemeanor not to report possible abuse and neglect to DCYF.

Cranston West school psychologist George Blessing was the first, also pleading not guilty in April to not reporting child abuse in a case connected to second-degree sexual assault charges against teacher Charles Pearson.

Neither Pearson nor Duffy have entered pleas in their respective cases.

LeMar’s attorney Thomas Gulick told Target 12 she did report the alleged victims’ claims to the school department but was told to “stand down” while the school department conducted the investigation.

Not reporting child abuse is a misdemeanor in Rhode Island, but can be a felony in Connecticut under certain circumstances.

Gulick also said LeMar contacted the parents of two of the alleged victims and was never trained by the district about the mandatory reporting law.

A school district spokesperson has acknowledged there was no specific training on the law before the alleged crimes at Kizirian Elementary surfaced.

But afterwards, DCYF has conducted several training sessions for Providence teachers after requests from the district.

According to Piccola, other states and jurisdictions require mandatory reporting law training but Rhode Island does not.

“If you call us, we will come out to any of the districts,” she said. “It’s up to [the school districts] whether or not they decide to require mandatory reporting training.”

Everyone who works in a school setting, from teachers to janitors, is required to report possible child abuse or neglect. The names reported to DCYF are not public, but would be released by law enforcement if there are criminal charges. Calls to DCYF can be anonymous, but are recorded.

Piccola said that while some are questioning the wording of the statute, the spirit of the law is clear: protect children.

And there’s little doubt the recent cases have had an impact.

“I think it’s sort of raised the antenna for them,” Piccola said. “I don’t know that I would characterize it as paranoid. They want to make sure they’re doing the right thing. They want to make sure they’re doing everything they can to protect their students.”

While not following the mandatory reporting law is a misdemeanor in Rhode Island and most other states, it can be a felony in Connecticut under certain circumstances.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau