The news that former had been “cleared” of child abuse or neglect isn’t exactly so, according to Gary Kleeblat, a spokesman for the state . The truth, he said, is more nuanced.
In fact, three other state agencies and one federal agency are still looking into the allegations.
On March 30, DCF issued a letter addressed to Girard that the investigation into the abuse or neglect of a child or children had not been “substantiated.” Girard, who took a leave of absence in January, has since informed the Middletown Board of Education that she will not return to work. BOE Chairman Eugene Nocera offered the letter at Tuesday’s BOE meeting.
“We conducted an investigation to determine whether child abuse or neglect as defined by Connecticut statute occurred and we were unable to substantiate abuse or neglect,” said Gary Kleeblat, spokesman for DCF, in explaining the department’s findings.
DCF looks into a specific allegation or complaint and, according to Jim McGaughey, executive director of the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, “has a mandate to do investigations within a certain time frame.”
Kleeblat was very careful to say that Girard and Farm Hill School staff had not been exonerated, as has been intimated in the press.
Rather, he offers, “It was a very specific inquiry that took place. There are many other ways or lenses to apply to the situation. It’s a very particular action; we do not look at education or application of that law. This is a relatively narrow inquiry and many other entities are responsible for that,” Kleeblat said.
Under DCF guidelines, he explained, “child abuse has to be [an action of] a parent or caretaker. It’s a very narrow constraint under Connecticut statute,” which means the agency’s purview is limited.
“This was an investigation regarding child abuse or neglect on the part of the principal. The department does not pass judgment on educational practices or anything like that," Kleeblat said.
Mickey Kramer, the state’s associate , said, “we’re in the midst of a very in-depth investigation” and working closely with the state Department of Education and DCF. “Four state agencies are looking at this,” she said, “all through different lenses.”
“‘Not substantiated’ sometimes means there’s no problem, but that’s not to say a big problem doesn’t arise. It’s really about what we look at. Number one: do they comply with federal and state law? We look at competency within their own policies.
"It is taking months and it often takes months,” Kramer said, to peel back the layers, and inevitably more questions arise.
“We are well on our way. I’m sure we have a way to go,” Kramer said.
Although all of these state agencies are separate, in an instance such as that of Farm Hill School’s, many of their interests overlap. In fact, McGaughey said, he and Kramer “coordinate our investigation and we’ll look at pretty much the same material and interview the same people.”
“We’ll look at continuity and application of programs for individual students with disabilities and whether or not teachers and paraprofessionals have been trained in escalation techniques as well as whether or not they follow the program,” McGaughey said.
One difference from DCF, McGaughey said, is, “we are not specifically targeting any one individual.”
The joint investigation is taking some time because of the very nature of the allegations.
“The last thing we want to do is do a slap-dash job here,” McGaughey said.
If his department’s inquiry reveals evidence of child abuse or neglect, he would be obligated to report that. Otherwise, the the OPAPD would suggest remedies in its final report.
The state s query is still in progress. Middletown Patch was unable to reach the spokesperson on Friday.
A bill now before the House () would require the State Board of Education to report annually on how often physical restraint and seclusion on children are used in schools. It was referred to the Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday.