BREAKING NEWS: April 27, 2017–Following recent headlines and parent outrage regarding a lawsuit against the Wilton School District, superintendent of schools Dr. Kevin Smith emailed a letter to parents this morning, saying he wanted explain policies and procedures in place to protect students, “…to reassure [parents] that student safety and welfare are our first responsibilities.”
Late last week, parents took to social media and contacted town and school officials after details were published in the Wilton Bulletin about a lawsuit filed against the schools and the town in 2015 (Girl Doe v. Wilton Board of Education, et al.). The suit alleges that a 4-year-old preschool student was sexually assaulted by former Wilton preschool paraprofessional, Erik von Kohorn, and that the school district failed to protect her and investigate properly when the parents notified them of their suspicions.
Below is the statement from Smith:
Dear Parents, Guardians and Caregivers:
Following a recent article in the Wilton Bulletin about a civil lawsuit stemming from a former Wilton Public Schools preschool employee’s alleged conduct in 2013, I received inquiries about District practices and procedures to ensure child safety and well-being. I am writing to reassure you that because student safety and welfare are our first responsibilities, we maintain a number of policies, procedures, and practices to protect our students.
We undertook a careful examination of all processes and procedures related to safety, with the intention of making improvements wherever possible. We conducted a comprehensive audit of personnel files, reviewed employee screening and hiring procedures, expanded employee training programs, and enhanced the sexual abuse prevention curriculum delivered to our students.
Careful review of our Board of Education policies led to a number of changes including review and revision of the following:
- Policy 4118.24 Staff/Student Non-Fraternization
- Policy 5145 Sexual Abuse Prevention and Education Program
- Policy 5146 Reports of Suspected Abuse
- Policy 4118.23 Employee Conduct
- Policy 5131.1 Hazing; and
- Policy 5132.2 Bullying Prevention and Intervention.
In addition, we developed and disseminated an employee handbook that details specific Board of Education policies, procedures, and guidelines with regard to student/staff interactions, and professional expectations for all educators. This document also details protocols for assisting students with toileting and other personal needs. Building administrators reviewed this handbook with faculty at the start of the school year, and all new staff hired after the start of the year are provided this important document as part of their onboarding process.
In the fall of 2015, the district launched a new staff training program entitled “Stewards of Children.” This important program is designed to educate staff members about child sexual abuse prevention and empower them to take immediate action if students exhibit any warning signs of sexual abuse. We repeated the program this fall and will provide it annually to all new staff and require refresher training for veteran staff triennially. Because of the importance of this work, I elected to become a certified
“Stewards of Children” trainer and have personally provided training to our classified staff for the last two years.
In addition, Wilton Public Schools staff members participate in annual Department of Children and Families (DCF) Mandated Reporter training. Each of these trainings reinforces the need for vigilance, and allows for review of the protocols in place for staff to report any behavior that is of concern.
This current school year, we engaged the Center for Sexual Abuse Crisis Counseling and Education to deliver a series of age-appropriate lessons K-12 on topics related to sexual abuse awareness, healthy relationships, online behavior and sexual assault. Additional training and support for students across grade levels enables students and adults to deal with issues of abuse both proactively and responsively.
Our procedures for screening prospective employees have also been improved:
- All recommended candidates undergo a rigorous vetting process that is overseen by our Director of Human Resources.
- As part of that screening, all candidates submit fingerprints that are referenced against the Connecticut State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal databases.
- Applicant names are referenced against the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry to ensure that no prospective employee appears on this list.
- All employees new to Wilton must submit to a background check that requires all former employers in institutions where candidates worked with children to verify that the employee has not been the subject of pending or substantiated allegations of abuse, neglect, or sexual misconduct.
- For candidates who hold teaching certification, names are verified with the Connecticut State Department of Education to ensure that a teaching certificate has not been revoked for any reason, including inappropriate conduct with students.
- In early 2017, Wilton Public Schools implemented an additional safeguard, requiring all prospective employees to submit to a supplemental background check provided by the Background Investigation Bureau (BIB), a commercial organization that provides screening services. This screening searches a wide range of databases including multi-county court searches, a criminal record database of over 400 million unique criminal records, sex offender registries from all 50 states, and security watch lists. We pursue these added measures out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety of our students.
We take our responsibility for the care and education of children very seriously – it is our first priority, and we continuously explore ways to improve our practice. As you may know, staff members are obligated to share any concerns they may have about student safety, and we invite parents to share any concerns they may have with the building principal. The safety of our children is a shared obligation and one that we, as educators, hold sacred. We welcome parents as partners to provide feedback and recommendations as we continue to monitor and refine our practices related to student safety.
Kevin J. Smith, Ph.D.