Dear Legal Mailbag:
Before the holidays, a student claimed that a teacher got mad pushed him into the wall using both hands. We promptly filed a report with DCF, put the teacher on leave, and waited. And waited. And waited. DCF took the case, but it is taking forever to complete the investigation. We have called DCF every week or two to see where they are with the investigation, but DCF just tells us to be patient.
Can we go ahead and do our own investigation?
Tired of Waiting
Eventually, the school district will be able to do its own investigation. Indeed, the school district is required to conduct its own investigation at some point, as discussed below. However, before undertaking any such investigation, school officials must coordinate with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) (or the appropriate law enforcement agency that may be investigating) and get permission to proceed with their own investigation.
These obligations are set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-221s(b), which provides
(b) A local or regional board of education shall permit and give priority to any investigation conducted by the Commissioner of Children and Families or the appropriate local law enforcement agency that a child has been abused or neglected pursuant to sections 17a-101a to 17a-101d, inclusive, and section 17a-103. Such board of education shall conduct its own investigation and take any disciplinary action, in accordance with the provisions of section 17a-101i, upon notice from the commissioner or the appropriate local law enforcement agency that such board’s investigation will not interfere with the investigation of the commissioner or such local law enforcement agency.
Legal Mailbag will walk you through the provisions of this statute:
- School districts must give priority to any investigation of abuse or neglect by DCF or a law enforcement agency.
- School districts must conduct their own investigation, but only after receiving notification from DCF or the appropriate law enforcement agency conducting such investigation will not interfere with the DCF or law enforcement investigation.
- Following investigation, the school district must take disciplinary action in accordance with the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101i.
As to disciplinary action required under Section 17a-101i, Legal Mailbag notes the following:
- If DCF substantiates abuse or neglect and the DCF Commissioner recommends that the school employee be placed on the registry (or if DCF determines that a school employee has victimized a student (as defined by the statute), the school district must suspend the school employee.
- Any such suspension must be with pay and without prejudice until action is taken on the employee’s employment, whether termination is by the superintendent of a non-certified employee or by the board of education in the case of a certified employee.
- When a certified employee is suspended pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101i, the superintendent must notify the board of education and the Commissioner of Education within seventy-two hours of the suspension and the reasons for the suspension.
- The statute contemplates that any such certified employee will be terminated in accordance with the Teacher Tenure Act (providing that “the suspension of a school employee employed in a position requiring a certificate shall remain in effect until the board of education acts pursuant to the provisions of section 10-151”).
- The superintendent must disclose records of the investigation of a certified employee to the Commissioner of Education and to the board of education or its attorney for purposes of reviewing the certified employee’s employment and whether the employee’s certification should be revoked.
- If the contract of employment of such certified school employee is terminated, or such certified school employee resigns such employment, the superintendent must notify the Commissioner of Education or representative, within seventy-two hours after the employee is terminated or has resigned.
- When the Commissioner of Education receives such notification, the Commissioner may commence certification revocation proceedings, with the understanding that information received by the Commissioner of Education or representative pursuant to this statutory process is confidential notwithstanding the provisions of the FOIA.
- Finally, this statute prohibits boards of education from employing a person whose employment contract is terminated or who resigned from employment following a suspension pursuant this statute if such person is convicted of one or more of crimes involving an act of child abuse or neglect as enumerated in the statute.
Legal Mailbag admits that this is a lot to absorb, but these are the rules. Do ask DCF if your school district can go ahead with your own investigation. In many situations, DCF will be happy to agree. With your help, DCF may even complete its investigation more quickly.
Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.