WILMINGTON — An independent investigator hired by Wilmington schools to investigate allegations of abuse at the Wildwood Early Education Center has concluded children were abused.
Patrick Hanley, an attorney for Butters Brazilian LLP, was hired to conduct the district’s independent review. Although Hanley was hired by the district, Superintendent Glenn Brand emphasized he does not represent Wilmington Public Schools or the town “in any way.”
“My conclusion is yes, there was abuse of three kids this school year and one kid last school year,” Hanley said, referring to the 2020-2021 and 2019-2020 academic years.
“There was one educator I found that had engaged in abuse,” Hanley said. “The other finding I made was that the second educator assigned to the same classroom could not have plausibly not known of it. But there was no evidence (the second educator) had engaged in it.”
Hanley discussed his findings and fielded questions from parents during a public meeting on Monday night, while Brand offered perspective on how the district would proceed.
Brand said an executive summary of the report was available upon request through his office. The Sun obtained a copy of the report Thursday morning.
“I conclude that one of the staff assigned to Classroom 7 grabbed, held and shoved with the staff member’s foot students assigned to Classroom 7 this school year and in prior years,” Hanley wrote in the report.
Legal counsel for affected parents requested at a meeting on Monday night that a redacted version of the full report could be released in a manner consistent with personnel records and student privacy laws.
Hanley reported his findings back to the school district and was asked a second question “what, if anything, did the principal do?”
According to Hanley, the principal “didn’t have any information or know prior to the allegations being made of the abuse of children in the school.”
“The principal had investigated prior allegations and had in one instance brought the allegation forward,” Hanley said, in regards to the educator.
However, Hanley wrote in the report that the principal found insufficient evidence to support the allegations.
“It wasn’t that nothing happened, it’s that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate that something happened,” Hanley said Monday.
No discipline has reportedly been handed down yet in regards to the latest complaint of abuse.
Hanley pointed to one investigation that did result in the educator being suspended from their job.
Additionally, Hanley makes note of an incident from 2014 in which the educator was reprimanded for “inappropriate conduct.” However, this incident “did not involve physical contact with students.” The educator did not challenge the earlier findings.
Legal counsel for the parents and some parents themselves questioned why the school’s mandated reporters had failed to meet their obligation of reporting abuse and neglect to the state Department of Children and Families.
“My child was interviewed twice by three mandated reporters. My child told that he was being hurt by a teacher. They never once called (DCF). I told my pediatrician what (my child) said and she immediately called DCF without any questions,” the parent said. “It is not the school’s job to decide what gets mandated and what doesn’t. That is DCF’s job. Why did this happen?”
Hanley referred the question to Brand, saying he would speak to the filing of 51A reports. However when Brand had remarks later in the meeting, he did not address the question directly either.
According to Hanley, the educator’s abusive practices did not constitute “lawful discipline” nor did they constitute “lawful restraints.”
Had the educator’s actions been intended as “lawful restraints” they would have been required to disclose it to the school’s leadership. The staff member had been safety-trained but failed to report the use of restraints “this year and in prior years.”
To reach his conclusions, Hanley conducted 35 interviews with parents. He also said he reviewed records provided by Wilmington Public Schools, the Wilmington Police Department, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and the DCF.
In response to Hanley’s findings, Brand said the district is changing its approach to training.
Moving forward, the district will use online, mandated reporter training from the Middlesex Children’s Advocacy Center.
Additionally, Brand said the district has added a full-time counselor for the coming school year at Wildwood. He also said they have added two social-emotional learning engagement specialists as well as educational assistant positions.
“I want to reiterate what I said in my June letter to the WPS community,” Brand said. “Abuse and mistreatment of students is wholly unacceptable, counter to our values and will not be tolerated. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure a healthy and supportive and learning environment in the Wilmington public schools. one that is safe, nurturing and promotes respect for one another at all times.”