Danville School Board expresses support for principal cited for failure to report abuse

(Editor’s note: This story was written by Todd Wellington of The Caledonian-Record, which first published it July 10, 2013.)

The Danville School Board voted 4-0 Tuesday night to express support for principal Noah Noyes who was criminally cited by the Vermont State Police Monday along with CCSU Superintendent Martha Tucker for failing to report an allegation of child abuse and neglect of public duty.

The Danville board also announced it would issue a press release to all media today explaining their position.

The vote came following an one hour-plus non-public executive session called for the evaluation of a public employee with both Noyes and Tucker remaining in the meeting after the media was asked to leave.

There were no Danville residents in attendance at the special meeting, which was held in a first floor conference room of the CCSU building. But there was one moment of public comment when a woman leaned out of the window of a passing SUV just before 8 p.m. and yelled to a reporter standing on the front porch of the CCSU building, “It shouldn’t take that long to fire him.”

While the non-public session could not be heard, it was clearly visible from the porch through a glass front door and at one point both Tucker and Noyes could be seen leaving the conference room and going behind a closed door into another section of the building.

A short time later — with the executive session ongoing — school board chairman Dan Ouellete left the conference room and went behind the same closed door as Tucker and Noyes leaving the other four school directors behind.

A short time later Ouellete, Tucker and Noyes all returned to the conference room together.

The meeting could be seen because Tucker had insisted on keeping the inner door to the conference room open after trying and failing to make the reporter sit on a wooden bench in a dark hallway behind a glass door during the executive session and then accused the reporter of trying to secretly listen to the secret board meeting through the door of the conference room.

Tucker could be seen throughout the meeting alternately pointing and gesturing at different people around the table with the pen she held in her right hand and making notes as board members spoke.

The 4-0 vote in support of Noyes came on a motion by School Director Fred Kitchel.

School directors Dan Ouellete, Sandy Hausermann and David Towle also voted in favor.

School Director Walter Smith, who works as a state police detective at the Middlesex Barracks, did not vote and said he would recuse himself from further discussion about Noah Noyes.

Danville is one of four school districts served by CCSU and it is governed by an executive board including members from Danville, Barnet, Peacham and Walden.

Kitchel is chairman of the CCSU board but for the second day in a row said he still wasn’t sure if the CCSU board would hold a meeting to evaluate Tucker – who was also charged criminally by state police on Monday.

“We’re thinking about it,” said Kitchel after the meeting.

Both Noyes and Tucker were cited by state police for allegedly failing to report to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) an allegation made by a Danville High School student that she had been touched inappropriately twice by a male teacher on April 29.

Under state law school officials and employees are required to report allegations of child abuse or neglect to DCF within 24 hours. State police said the original complaint abuse remains under investigation.

On Tuesday, Tucker’s lawyer — Pietro Lynn of Burlington — said the charge against his client is meritless and that the allegation of misconduct by a teacher was immediately investigated by the school and found to be unsubstantiated. Lynn said his client had no reasonable basis to make a report.

“The decision to charge her criminally for failure to report child abuse by a school employee where the state has not even charged that employee with child abuse is perplexing,” Lynn said.

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  • DAvid Black

    This situation reminds me of a prelude to the Jerry Sandusky trial.

  • Frank Davis

    First, children must be protected fom abuse. Any allegation deserves a full evaluation. That said, the instructions from the DCF website states “…means that once you suspect a child may have been abused or neglected, you are required by law to report your suspicions to Family Services—within 24 hours.” However the statutes (33 V.S.A. § 4913, 4912 and 4911) seem to indicate that any and every allegation by a child in school should be reported to law enforcement or DCF by a designated mandatory reporter. If one follows the instruction of the website a spurious or blatently false accusation by a child would not raise a suspicion and be reportable. These criminal citations mean that even the most improbable and impossible event that a child reports must be reported. Very well then, to CYA an administrator who is sure of a baseless, invented and vindictive accusation by a child must still report and very likely ruin the reputation of an innocent staff member, parent or other adult by initiating a criminal investigation. Yes indeed, children must be completely protected but they are children and not in charge.

  • Julie Hansen

    Mr. Davis,

    All of us who work with children on a regular basis are aware that they say some outrageous things for a variety of reasons. It seems to me that because of that we must turn it over to an outside agency.

    No one wants to jeopardize the reputation of a teacher, of course not. I believe, or I guess choose to believe, that those in the agency are also aware that children make untrue statements and proceed with that in mind.

    It’s an awful situation for the parents and the faculty and administrators of any school when this happens. No one wants it to be true, but sometimes it is. We have to abide by the law to ensure that everyone is protected: the child, the family, the teacher, the school, and society.

  • M.L. Stephens

    Before retirement I was a mandated reporter, so re-read 33 Chap 49 ss.4913 to refresh my memory. Some of the disagreement between school officials and those contemplating prosecution may stem from the phrase found in (a) ‘Any (list of mandated reporters is specified here) who has a reasonable cause to believe that any child has been abused or neglected shall report….’ I recall hearing that when this law was being contemplated by the legislature, the intent of the ‘reasonable cause’ phrase was that it would require mandated reporters to make a reasonable, sound decision that would give them ‘reasonable cause to believe’ or NOT believe, and having reasonable cause would then require a report. Conversely, not having reasonable cause would NOT require a report. In other words, as written, 4913 appears to require a report in cases where the mandated reporter has reasonable cause, but does NOT appear to require a report in All cases.

    The training that we received stressed erring on the side of caution, which translated into reporting almost all accusations (whether or not we believed there was reasonable cause) but there was acknowledgement that such an approach exceeded the apparent requirements and intent. I suspect that other agencies/ entities may approach the provision rather differently, applying some weight and thinking to that key phrase.

    If the two educators were cited under this provision, it seems likely that someone will need to resolve the questions of what constitutes ‘reasonable cause’ for educators and whether these particular educators did or did not have reasonable cause. I don’t recall ever having seen a prosecution of educators for failure to report – if I am correct about that, this law will be scrutinized if prosecution continues. I don’t envy anyone on any side of this particular question.

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