Report reveals specifics leading to Claremont principal’s dismissal (updated)
A detailed investigative report alleges that Sumner School Principal Frank D’Emilio was derelict in his duties as a mandated reporter and untruthful in his interactions about reporting suspected child abuse to the Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS].
The district hired Edward C. Saucerman of Workforce Investigations Group to conduct the investigation into allegations against the principal. Mr. Saucerman interviewed Mr. D’Emilio, parents of both children involved, the children, and 7 district employees, including teaching staff.
According to Mr. Saucerman’s investigation, in mid-December of 2011, Mr. D’Emilio met with the parent of an 8-year-old female [Student 47] who had concerns her daughter was being victimized by a 7-year-old female schoolmate [Student 28]. The parent asserted that 3 inappropriate interactions between the children took place in May 2011, with another event this school year.
As described in the investigator’s report, on more than one occasion Mr. D’Emilio was not forthright, misleading both CUSD staff and the parent by stating he had contacted DCFS to report the incidents.
As part of the investigation, Mr. D’Emilio told Mr. Saucerman he had taken notes of his initial meeting with the parent of Student 47, but “could not locate them.” He also said that although he had considered interviewing both students involved, he chose not to because the information was second-hand and the students’ account of the events could not be corroborated.
The 131-page investigative report shows that, while several teachers and staff members were aware of the suspected abuse, they did not report the matter since Mr. D’Emilio had assured them he had done so.
In one staff interview, a teacher’s written notes allege that she approached Mr. D’Emilio in December and stated, “I cannot be comfortable on winter break. I need to know that this has been reported to CPS [Child Protective Services.]” Mr. D’Emilio reportedly removed a packet of papers with a neon green top sheet from his desk drawer, saying that DCFS was not going to investigate because it was child-to-child and had occurred so long ago, implying that the papers were somehow related to the reporting of the incident.
The teacher then asked Mr. D’Emilio if she could make daycare, recess staff and the student’s teacher aware of the situation, to which he “either said, ‘yes’ or ‘I agree,’” the teacher said.
Between December and January, according to the teacher’s testimony, P.E., day care and recess staff were notified about the situation. After returning from winter break, the teacher then followed up by referring one of the students to counseling.
Concerns about the investigation
In a previous interview, Joe Tonan, Claremont Faculty Association president and Sumner teacher, expressed uneasiness at the investigation.
“The investigation itself was flawed,” Mr. Tonan said.
According to Mr. Tonan, Sumner staff were told the investigation was focused solely on the actions of Mr. D’Emilio and not on faculty. Yet, 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 the teacher was left very shaken. The investigator told the teacher he believed she was cleared of all wrongdoing.
“It was a very traumatic episode to the teacher. It makes me question how the rest of the investigation was handled,” Mr. Tonan said.
In the report, Mr. Saucerman challenges Mr. D’Emilio’s credibility based on the fact he lied to the parent, both verbally and in an email, together with the fact Mr. D’Emilio did not deem the events reportable.
“This investigator did not find Mr. D’Emilio credible,” Mr. Saucerman reported. He went on to say that Mr. D’Emilio used poor judgment in handling the situation and he “not only misled the staff, but he misled his supervisors that he had reported the situation.”
Mr. Saucerman determined that, as a school principal, Mr. D’Emilio is aware of his obligation to report suspected abuse, observing that the local administrator did not take responsibility for his actions, except for admitting he lied to his superiors about not reporting the incidents.
Mr. Tonan rejects the investigator’s conclusion that Mr. D’Emilio isn’t credible, stating that this is a single case of poor judgment and should not discount his more than 2 decades of service to CUSD.
“He admits to the mistake. Those who know Frank know that he has a 25-year pattern of honesty,” Mr. Tonan said. “There is a failing here, which he admits to, but Frank has an established record of honesty.”
In the investigative report, Mr. D’Emilio elaborated as to why he felt the students’ interactions did not constitute abuse. He said that he wanted to speak with the parent of the instigator to get her perspective before calling DCFS. The parent’s reaction, according to Mr. D’Emilio, was that of shock and genuine concern. He followed up by observing the student on the playground who, from his account, appeared to be happy, outgoing and playing appropriately with peers.
“She showed no signs of being abused,” Mr. D’Emilio stated. “She was not depressed or withdrawn, in fact, quite the opposite. Because of this, and the fact that the majority of the incidents happened more than 6 months ago, I decided not to report this to DCFS.”
The parent of Student 47 said that Student 28 had kissed her daughter and laid on top of her while on the playground and “rubbed her body in a sliding motion,” as stated in the investigative report. Student 47 said the instigator had “removed her pants and left her underwear on” during the incident. Student 28 admitted the incident took place, but said it was mutually agreed upon and that she did not take off her pants.
Although not outlined in the initial statement of charges, Mr. Saucerman’s report reveals another event, which involved the younger student lifting her dress while in the girls’ bathroom and asking the older child, “Do you like my thing?”
Student 47 said that Student 28 asked her and another classmate to stand upright as a “pole,” then she danced while rubbing her body against them. Other alleged conduct included using a leaf to inappropriately touch her classmate, and asking several of her friends to line up on the playground wherein she made “inappropriate comments about ‘boobies’ growing.”
Student 28 is described by her teachers as being “poorly behaved,” as crying and laughing within a 10-minute period, and often roughhousing with other students. Other inappropriate school behavior was described as dancing, bending over then spanking her own buttocks, and being loud and hyper. Her teacher reported she was once seen pointing at a bench saying that a “lady” was calling her. The teacher stated that Student 28 was “imagining the event.” Mr. D’Emilio was said to be very concerned about the possible hallucination, according to the teacher’s statement.
On February 9, the mother of Student 47 again contacted Mr. D’Emilio, this time by email, to ask if he had reported the matter to DCFS. He responded that he had made the call, but that no report number was given.
“I did not get a report number because it was simply a call to the hotline,” Mr. D’Emilio wrote to the parent. “A formal report would not be filed due to the fact that I did not hear about this directly from [redacted] and many of the incidents happened so long ago.”
On February 14, the mother again contacted Mr. D’Emilio by email to express concern for not only her daughter, but the safety of the younger child, who had exhibited sexual behavior she believed was far beyond what was normal for a child her age.
“I think situations like Miramontes [sic] Elementary School pass because the people in charge did not take action nor importance when students or parents made the first time a warning or complaint,” she wrote. “I hope this will not be the same case with [Student 28]. How is it possible that all the people I’ve told these incidents as the pediatrician, [redacted], my family, think and believe that someone is doing the same or worse to [Student 28] or maybe she is doing the same to other girls in school too.”
When questioned about his dishonesty with the mother, Mr. D’Emilio told the investigator he wanted her to feel he was taking care of the matter internally and expressed a desire to “contain the situation by handling the matter at school.”
On February 12, the Claremont Police Department received a mandated report from Student 47’s physician. District administrators talked with Mr. D’Emilio on February 17 and he assured his superiors the incidents were reported. Later that day, Mr. D’Emilio called the district office to admit that he had not reported the incidents.
Mr. D’Emilio has since apologized for not being honest with the district, but refutes the dismissal on the basis of immoral or unprofessional conduct and unfitness for service, emphasizing the incidents were between 2 young students, not an adult. He also stated in his testimony that he wanted to keep the situation contained and that he felt both students were safe with the additional safeguards and counseling that had been put into place.
The CUSD board voted 5-0 on Thursday, May 3 to remove Mr. D’Emilio from his position as principal of Sumner Elementary School, and voted 4-1 against his returning as a classroom teacher for the 2012-2013 school year. He has roughly 3 more weeks to appeal the board’s decision and should he elect not to appeal, his employment with the district will be terminated.
The COURIER will continue to follow this story as news develops.