Once again we see a situation where a school board has failed to protect students. Even after receiving notification of inappropriate sexual contact between a Stamford High teen and his teacher, nothing was done. School boards have to be vigilant. It’s not enough to have policies; school boards have a duty to enforce these policies instead of taking a “see no evil, hear no evil” approach.
Report backs firing of principal
By Evan Simko-Bednarski
STAMFORD — “A profoundly disturbing picture of willful inaction.” That’s how former Stamford High School principal Donna Valentine’s handling of the teacher-student sex scandal is described in the report that the school board will use to decide whether to fire her.
“Dr. Valentine’s inability to recall events and dates with accuracy means that her version of these events is not credible,” the report reads.
The 95-page report, obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, recommends that the board dismiss her. The findings are extremely critical of Valentine. It is the sole piece of information the board will use to make its decision. It was compiled by a state Department of Education hearing officer at Valentine’s request, which is her right in the process of contesting the superintendent’s recommendation she be fired
“While she may believe she is telling the truth as she remembers it, her memory is often contradicted by disinterested witnesses, and credit cannot be given to her contradictory statements,” the report reads.
The hearing officer serves as an independent and impartial mediator in the proceedings. He spent six days hearing testimony from students, teachers and administrators who had a role in the scandal. He also reviewed the city’s investigation of the case, as well as media coverage of it.
Valentine, who was arrested in October 2014 for failing to report suspicions that English teacher Danielle Watkins was having sex with a student, has been fighting her firing since May.
Her lawyer, Ryan O’Neill, questioned the report’s impartiality in an emailed statement.
“Unfortunately, the hearing officer’s decision was high on emotion and rhetoric, and short on facts and objectivity,” O’Neill wrote.
Hearing officer Peter Adomeit, a West Hartford lawyer listed on the state department of education’s website as one of its mediators, gives an exhaustive list of reasons why he finds Valentine’s side of the story to lack credibility
Many of them are based on inconsistencies he found in her story. For example Valentine told police that she was made aware of rumors Watkins’ victim was driving her car in May, and was told this by Stamford High art teacher Kim Wheeler. Yet during her termination hearing, Valentine said she heard the rumor from a student in April.
Valentine told police that she had been unaware of rumors that Watkins’ and her victim were having sex until the last week of June 2014. However, she testified to Adomeit — as well as to investigators last spring — that she was aware of the possibility the two were having sex as early as May 28 of that year.
Adomeit also claims Valentine knew about the abuse earlier than previously thought. He points out that the city’s investigation showed that rumors of Watkins’ abuse began circulating around Stamford High between February and March 2014. The hearing officer’s report, however, suggests Valentine knew about the abuse as early as December 2013.
Adomeit writes that Watkins’ victim went to Valentine “sometime before Christmas,” and was told that the principal knew “what was going on.”
“She told him not to worry about it and just to pass English,” the report states.
Though Valentine denied she had any such conversation with the victim, the report says the victim had no motivation to lie and should therefore be believed.
Public trust eroded
The report also focuses on the press coverage the scandal garnered as part of its argument for Valentine’s dismissal. The “significant damage to the reputation of Stamford High School and the school system and the Town of Stamford” that followed. Valentine’s actions, the report states, caused “a significant erosion of the public trust,” which Adomeit points out was cited by former Superintendent Winifred Hamilton in announcing her retirement in May 2014.