PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The bench trial of a Providence elementary school principal who was charged with failing to contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families about sexual abuse allegations her students made against a teacher started Thursday with two children taking the stand to repeat their claims.
The two girls, a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old, explained that they approached Harry Kizirian Elementary School Principal Violet LeMar separately last May to accuse physical education teacher James Duffy of touching them inappropriately.
LeMar, who is currently on administrative leave, is accused of breaking a relatively new state law that 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 and carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.
Duffy has been charged with six counts of second-degree child molestation and a single count of simple assault. He has pleaded not guilty.
The first child to testify claimed she made the accusations to LeMar on May 9, 2017. She also acknowledged discussing the incident with a school counselor, the police and a DCYF investigator in the weeks that followed.
The girl claimed Duffy groped her breast while they were in the school’s cafeteria. She said she demonstrated exactly what happened for LeMar. At one point, the girl broke down into tears as she explained that she was scared of Duffy.
The second girl made similar accusations, again explaining that she demonstrated for LeMar what Duffy had done to her. The girl said LeMar asked her to write a statement when she got home later in the day. The girl’s mother was also called to the stand, testifying that she was furious no one from the school contacted her about her daughter’s accusations.
LeMar’s attorney, Thomas Gulick, sought to find inconsistencies in the children’s claims. They both acknowledged making different statements about Duffy, but both maintained they told LeMar the teacher touched their breasts.
Ania Zielinski, a special assistant attorney general who is prosecuting the case, told District Court Judge James Caruolo that Lemar was offered six months probation in exchange for pleading guilty, but she turned down the deal.
Prior to the trial, Caruolo denied a request to dismiss the case filed by Gulick. The attorney argued the failure to report law does not clearly define sexual abuse. Caruolo acknowledged there is “room for improvement” in the statute, but said the General Assembly’s intent was take a student’s accusations “out of the hands of the school department and its employees” and allow investigators to review them.