At least 50 Providence school employees placed on leave this year, but most are back at work


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Dozens of Providence School employees have been placed on paid administrative leave since September due to multiple investigations, but the majority of them have already returned to work.

Laura Hart, a spokesperson for the school department, confirmed Thursday that “more than 50” employees have been put on leave since the start of the school year. She did not provide an exact total, but said at least 40 employees are back on the job.

Hart said there is anecdotal evidence that the number of employees on leave has increased this year, noting that Providence is relying on guidance from the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) which recommends school districts report any alleged misconduct between employees and students be investigated by the agency prior to a school department investigation.

“There’s a reason for this and it’s not unique to Providence,” Hart said. She stressed that placing employees on administrative leave is not considered disciplinary action. In the past, the district would conduct its own investigations before turning information over to DCYF.

During Thursday’s City Council meeting, Councilman John Igliozzi claimed more than 60 employees have been placed on leave, but Hart said she doesn’t believe the number is that high.

Igliozzi, a Democrat from Ward 7, was making the case for his proposal to place cameras in every classroom in the city as a way to better ensure problematic interactions between adults and children are captured on video.

A resolution introduced by Igliozzi cites an incident last month involving an assistant principal at Central High School, who resigned after he was caught on video pinning a 15-year-old boy to the ground during an altercation. The boy allegedly assaulted two staff members, but the video prompted calls for the administrator to be fired.

The school department has been under heightened scrutiny after it admitted that it failed to contact DCYF when multiple students at Harry Kizirian Elementary School accused a physical education teacher of touching them inappropriately last May. The teacher, James Duffy, was charged with five counts of second-degree child molestation on three different children.

The fallout led to Kizirian principal Violet LeMar being charged with failing to report the molestation claims to DCYF, which is a misdemeanor. She has pleaded not guilty. At least five other school department employees were aware of the children’s claims, but no one else has been charged.

Maribeth Calabro, president of the Providence Teachers Union, declined to comment Thursday evening. Not every employee who was placed on leave is a member of the teachers’ union.

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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