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Report Says Schools Didn't Protect Kids

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and state Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein made Westport an example of what they believe is a poor job of protecting school children from abuse and neglect. The 66-page report , released last Thursday, examines the handling of abuse in public schools across the state.

According to the report the State Department of Education, Department of Children and Family Services and school districts themselves have all failed to adequately safeguard children.  The report cites dozens of examples from an in-depth examination of five districts including Westport, East Hartford, Southington, New Haven and Bridgeport. In particular, the report finds fault with hiring practices including the screening of employees and the rules regarding when and how school personnel must report instances of abuse.

“We have found a maze of miscommunication and misinformation, where mandated reporters fail to properly communicate abuse allegations, local and state authorities fail to share abuse information or adequately screen new hires, and public officials fail to set clear, explicit polices and training,” said Blumenthal in a press release.

In Westport, the report chronicles the child abuse by Paul Held, an art teacher in the Westport Schools for 30 years. Held was convicted in 2007 for the possession of three to four million photos depicting child pornography. The report cites example after example of reports of inappropriate conduct by Held that slipped through the administrative cracks, including inappropriate touching and taking pictures of girls.

Westporter and former PTA president Catherine Davis said she felt Blumenthal used Westport as an example so it didn’t look like the report was focusing on schools in less affluent communities. “It’s a problem that traverses all social, economic and racial boundaries,” she said.

“I’m always impressed with the Westport school’s policies and procedures. They have one for everything under the sun, and they follow it,” said Davis. She has no doubt that once the accusations against Held were substantiated, immediate action was taken.

The report puts forth several recommendations including the expansion of a DCF child abuse and neglect registry. It also focuses on regular review and training of the mandated reporting policies including who exactly can report instances of child abuse and the timeframe in which they should be reported.

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