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CUSD dismisses principal over handling of student incidents

Sumner Elementary School Principal Frank D’Emilio has been placed on unpaid leave after failing to notify officials of suspected child abuse incidents.

The decision by the CUSD board stems from occurrences in May 2011 where 2 female students, ages 7 and 8, allegedly participated in acts on campus that were sexual in nature.

Mr. D’Emilio was suspended by the CUSD board as a result of an investigation and closed-session discussion at the Thursday, May 3 meeting, where the board dismissed the principal for violating the state’s Education Code relating to “immoral or unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, evident unfitness for service and for persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school laws of the state.”

In his response to the Statement of Charges provided by the district, Mr. D’Emilio submitted his resignation as the principal of Sumner, but stated that he would like to return as a classroom teacher for the 2012-2013 school year.

Mr. D’Emilio was contacted for comment, but declined to elaborate beyond what was submitted in his written response to the district.

Mr. D’Emilio has 30 days from Thursday, May 3 to file a Request for Hearing before an administrative law judge in order to maintain employment with the district.

“I cannot comment other than to say he is allowed due process,” said Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources. “The hearing is a time when he can enter evidence, review testimony and have witnesses appear on his behalf. The decision of the judge at that time is final.”

On May 3, Mr. D’Emilio submitted a 7-page written response to the allegations, where he apologized for not being forthright with the district. Mr. D’Emilio refutes the dismissal on the basis of immoral or unprofessional conduct and unfitness for service, emphasizing that the alleged incidents were between 2 young students, not an adult.

In December 2011, a parent of a district student at Sumner notified Mr. D’Emilio that she suspected her child had been victimized by another student.

The parent of the 8-year-old said that in separate incidents in May 2011, a 7-year-old female student kissed her daughter and laid on top of her while on the playground.

In another incident, the parent claims that the 7-year-old asked the 8-year-old and another classmate to stand upright as a “pole,” then danced, making physical contact with both girls. Other alleged conduct on the part of the 7-year old included using a leaf to inappropriately touch her classmate.

On another day, the 7-year-old girl purportedly asked several of her friends to line up on the playground wherein she made “inappropriate comments about ‘boobies’ growing.”

The parent called the child abuse hotline at Department of Family and Child Services (DCFS) to report the matter ,and they directed her to notify Mr. D’Emilio as the school’s principal, according to the report.

“I understand my responsibility as a mandated reporter,” Mr. D’Emilio stated. “However in this case, I did not see these actions as reportable at the time. The incidents described to me by the parent were inappropriate, however they took place between 2 very young (age 7 and 8) children...I was not thinking of it as abuse, but rather behavior that parents needed to know about and the school needed to make sure would not happen again.”

Mr. D’Emilio said in his statement that he spoke with the parents of the 7-year-old in 2 separate meetings and that the child had asserted to her parents that both girls agreed to participate. However, the mother of the 8-year-old maintains her daughter described the activities as “unwelcome” and that she was very upset about it.

On several occasions from mid-December 2011 to February of this year, the parent of the 8-year-old contacted the school asking if the matter had been reported to DCFS. Mr. D’Emilio responded that he told the parent he wanted to discuss the situation with the younger student’s parents, also offering to talk with her child. The mother declined, stating that her daughter would feel uncomfortable.

On February 12, the Claremont Police Department received a mandated report from the 8-year-old child’s physician. A week later, school administrators contacted Mr. D’Emilio to inquire if he had reported the events to DCFS and were told that he had filed, but no report number was given.

Five days later, Mr. D’Emilio called the district office to say that he had not reported the incidents to the authorities, instead electing to handle the matter internally.

“Additional steps were put in place by myself and others,” Mr. D’Emilio said in his response.

Mr. D’Emilio said he discussed the matter with the parents of both girls, notified both students’ teachers, and spoke with staff to make sure the students were acting appropriately on the play yard.  He also asked a staff member to “keep an eye” on the 7-year-old and to accompany all students to the restrooms, which is now a regular practice at the school site.

In early February, the 8-year-old was directed by Mr. D’Emilio to begin seeing one of the counseling interns at Sumner. The counseling interns and the third grade teachers were also instructed by Mr. D’Emilio to present the “Talking and Touching” program to all third grade students.

Joe Tonan, Claremont Faculty Association president and Sumner teacher, expressed uneasiness at the results of the investigation, which was administered by an outside person hired by the district.

“The investigation itself was flawed,” Mr. Tonan said.

According to Mr. Tonan, Sumner staff was assured that the investigation was focused solely on the actions of Mr. D’Emilio and not on faculty. However, a tape-recorded interview began with the teacher’s job security being threatened based on the answers provided, he explained.

“Before the recorder went on, the teacher was threatened or warned that things said in the interview would lead to possible dismissal as a teacher,” Mr. Tonan said. “I had to stop the interview. I had to call CTA attorneys. The teacher broke down crying.”

The pre-interview discussion wasn’t recorded or documented, Mr. Tonan said, adding that hypothetical and leading questions were used and that the teacher was left very shaken. The investigator told the teacher he believed she was cleared of all wrongdoing.

“We had been told this had happened, but then a teacher was being targeted. It was a very traumatic episode to the teacher. It makes me question how the rest of the investigation was handled,” Mr. Tonan said.

Mr. Tonan was not asked to sign a confidentiality notice.

A public records request for the investigator’s report has been submitted by the COURIER to the school district.

Should Mr. D’Emilio not appeal the board’s decision by requesting a hearing, his employment with the district will be terminated.

“I have worked successfully in the Claremont Unified School District for 25 years,” he wrote. “My past evaluations have always been positive. I?have been an effective teacher and administrator as evidenced by the academic achievement of my students.”

“I want to say that I am sincerely sorry for putting the district through this ordeal. I still have a lot to offer the students, parents and community of CUSD as a classroom teacher.”

—Kathryn Dunn

editor@claremont-courier

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