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Investigations of sexual misconduct cast a shadow over Babylon’s school district

A state investigation into alleged sexual misconduct in Babylon’s school district is likely to go beyond individual misconduct to investigate possible institutional and systemic errors, legal experts said.

Attorney General Letitia James’ office announced on November 23 that it would conduct a civilian investigation into the district after several women attending Babylon Junior-Senior High School said they had been sexually harassed and in at least one case nurtured for a sexual relationship by teachers. Some of the allegations go back more than a decade.

What to know

Legal experts said the state investigation is likely to be broader than the district investigation and more focused on potential systemic errors in addition to individual misdemeanor.

Jeffrey Kenney, a science teacher at Babylon High School, agreed to resign and never seek re-employment in Babylon or any other school system in the country in a settlement with the district.

The Crime Center has begun training district staff, as well as students and parents, including the prevention of sexual harassment and mandatory reporting of child abuse or mistreatment under state law.

The district placed five employees on paid administrative leave after the charges became public.

James’ investigation may result in political changes and lead to more investigation of the district. The school system had already approved an independent investigation into the charges, led by a former prosecutor in Suffolk County. That investigation could potentially lead to disciplinary action against staff, legal experts said.

“What a civilian investigation is looking at is not just the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s actions, but the institution’s fault,” said Marci Hamilton, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based CHILD USA. “It’s a systemic study as opposed to just one person they focus on.”

The AG’s office declined to comment on the case, but said its investigation is separate from the district’s investigation conducted by Chris Powers, a lawyer at Hauppauge law firm Ingerman Smith LLP. Powers was hired by the school board last month.

Accusations of harassment surfaced shortly after teacher Jeffrey Kenney was put on paid administrative leave in late October. The allegations made against other teachers became public after the alleged victims posted accounts on social media and spoke to the school board on 15 November.

Since there are several allegations, a law expert said one key question state investigators will try to answer is who knew what and when.

“It’s not one person, once, but it seems to be a series and a series of incidents coming out of the school district,” said Barbara Barron, a law professor at Hofstra University. “How did it happen? How did it continue for so long? And what did the school know? And why did the school not act?… If the school did not know, why did they not know? How could they not know?”

Investigators will also search for witnesses and corroborating evidence that can help them assess the strength of the charges, she said.

Resignation after ‘disturbing accusations’

Kenney, who was put on leave due to “disturbing allegations”, resigned in early November after reaching a settlement agreement with the district. The agreement, which Newsday obtained through a request for freedom of information legislation, stipulates that he relinquishes his teaching licenses and never seeks work in Babylon or any other school system in the United States.

The district declined to comment on this story beyond an email statement from the school board. “We are cooperating fully with the District Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office, and we will provide all the factual information requested directly to them,” the statement read.

No charges have been filed against any of the accused, and Suffolk police received one charge, but it was past the statute of limitations for charges to be filed.

Powers, a former assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, did not respond to further requests for comment. His findings may lead to disciplinary action.

When asked about possible outcomes of his investigation in a previous interview, Powers pointed to a disciplinary case that allows a district to fire a permanent teacher for “fair reasons” under State Education Act 3020-a.

“I will look at what evidence there is and whether there is evidence that supports either referral to the police department, which has happened in some of these cases, or whether there is enough evidence to support the charges,” Powers said in an interview on November 16. , referring to accusations the district may raise against teachers in the 3020-a case.

Before the district reached a settlement with Kenney, Superintendent Linda Rozzi had presented the school board with disciplinary charges against him during 3020-a, and a board meeting was scheduled to vote on the charges.

Kenney, 53, a longtime science teacher in high school, agreed to resign a week later, on Nov. 8. Some information in the settlement agreement was edited, including the basis of the charges, due to privacy. He is still entitled to a pension.

Kenney declined to comment Thursday, other than to say that this has “ruined” his family.

2011 first graduated to speak in public

Brittany Rohl, 28, was the first woman to come forward publicly with a letter she sent to the school board. The Babylonian candidate from 2011 said a coach at the school nursed her, beginning when she was 16, for a sexual relationship.

Two other women, Darcy Orlando Bennet, 30, who graduated from Babylon in 2009, and Barbara Maier, 31, who graduated a year earlier, said they had been sexually harassed by another coach. Bennet said the coach tried to kiss her as she was in ninth grade, initiating unwanted and lewd physical contact with girls under the guise of helping their athletic form.

Corinne Samon, a 1987 graduate, was the one who filed a complaint with police in Suffolk on November 14, claiming that a former high school teacher made an obscene comment and beat her back when she was alone with him in 1982 in the store class. .

Samon said she confronted the man a few days later, but did not report it or tell it to her family until decades later.

“I just felt this shame and anger that I could not tell anyone because I was so embarrassed,” Samon said. “There is no shame now at 52. I know the 12-year-old did nothing wrong. It was not a shame on me. It is a shame on them for not protecting us as children.”

Police informed her that the statute of limitations had expired, but Samon said she filed the report on the principle that her voice could be heard.

“The culture of silence and getting everyone to tease and all the veiled secrecy because of privacy laws and anything else, society is so disadvantaged because we are told as parents, even if you had to report that you are the first parent who ever came., “said Samon, a mother of two boys who goes to high school.

More people are expected to speak at the school board meeting on Monday.

Victims Center: Several say no

Laura Ahearn, executive director of the Ronkonkoma-based Crime Victims Center, said her organization had received “many” reports of inappropriate behavior in the district in recent weeks. She refused to enter the number.

“Some report a handful of teachers whose inappropriate behavior, which dates back to four decades ago, would have risen to a level of sexual harassment, endangering a child’s welfare, sexual abuse and even sexual assault,” Ahearn said. notes that the accused teachers are former employees of the Babylonian district.

None of the three accused former teachers could be reached for comment. Their names have not been released.

Ahearn said her organization began offering training this week and will continue to train staff, students and parents in the coming weeks. Staff training will include the prevention of sexual harassment and mandatory reporting of child abuse or mistreatment under state law.

Robert Visbal, whose LinkedIn profile said he was high school principal from 2002 to 2011 and assistant principal from 1994 to 2002, declined to comment on any of the alleged incidents.

“I’ve been following what’s happening in the news and I’m shaken by it,” Visbal said when called. “I think it’s a disgrace what’s been going on. These are allegations. I do not know if they are true or not. I can only remotely state that if they are true, it is shameful. That’s all. what can I say. “

New York State United Teachers and its local union Babylon Teachers’ Association declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Depending on the results, David Bloomfield, a professor of education law at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center, said the district could be required to implement policy changes and face ongoing state oversight.

The district may also face civil lawsuits and political setbacks, Bloomfield said.

“This is a political process as well as a legal process,” he said. “[The public] can vote the school budget down… to waste their hard earned tax money. So the political results could be more far-reaching and unpredictable. “

The process is still at the fact-finding stage, and experts warned against drawing conclusions.

“An investigation is really just the beginning,” said Bennett Gershman, a former state prosecutor and law professor at Pace University with campuses in New York City and Westchester County. “Anything is possible here without really knowing what the facts are.”

Gershman said the Justice Department’s investigation is to establish the facts that could lead to liability if required.

“They could drop it all and say there is no basis for any further investigation,” he said. “Or they could say the district behaved unprofessionally and irresponsibly, they engaged in a cover-up, and they could then impose sanctions.”

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