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Deal with police says schools don't have to report every instance of assault

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 23. 2017 9:33PM

Reader Poll

  • Is a misdemeanor simple assault involving two students in the same ballpark as a misdemeanor sexual assault involving a school employee and a student?
  • Yes
  • 10%
  • No
  • 87%
  • Ambivalent
  • 3%
  • Total Votes: 1194

CONCORD — St. Paul’s School does not have to report every instance of assault involving a student to Concord police, according to an agreement the school provided to the New Hampshire Union Leader Tuesday.

The school provided its updated agreement with the Concord Police Department, signed in September 2012, upon request.

The Union Leader made inquiries about any written agreement with police in light of the blockbuster report, released Monday, that detailed decades of sexual misconduct at the prestigious preparatory school.

The current agreement is written in compliance with the New Hampshire Safe Schools Act and spells out what crimes must be reported to police.

The agreement said simple assaults, which are misdemeanors under state law, should be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“Simple assault is an area where there can be reporting to law enforcement or school disciplinary action,” the agreement reads. It says that parents will be notified in all cases. It makes no mention of misdemeanor sexual assault, which applies to cases involving sexual contact between minors and other minors or young adults.

The school-police agreement proved key to a St. Paul’s lawyer, who referred to an earlier version in a letter to police in December 2000.

St. Paul’s lawyer David Wolowitz explained to Concord police why he believed that the sexual misconduct of former history teacher Jose A.G. “Senor” Ordonez, which took place years earlier, did not have to be reported to police.

The misconduct wasn’t felony-level sexual assault because there were no reports of personal injury, Wolowitz wrote. And the agreement with Concord police meant that the school did not have to report simple assaults on a routine basis.

Wolowitz’ letter was paraphrased in the St. Paul’s report released on Monday.

That agreement can be viewed below:

Although St. Paul’s provided a copy of the agreement, the school did not make an official available for comment.

“I’m aware of your request. Schedules are very tight right now, and we are doing our best,” wrote Communications Director Sarah Aldag in an email.

Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood did not return a telephone call or email asking for comment.

A lawyer who represents sexual assault victims said he’s never heard of agreements between police and prep schools.

Such an agreement would grant school officials the ability to decide how serious an assault is, said Mitchell Garabedien, who has sued the Catholic Church over sex abuse and now represents a former New Hampshire state rep who is suing Phillip’s Andover Academy.

“I don’t know why you would give such power to a school that has been covering up major felonies,” he said. “A crime is a crime.”

The state Safe Schools Act spells out what crimes a school must report to police, and gives a 48-hour deadline.

It exempts simple assaults if the school has a policy for notifying parents.

Amanda Grady Sexton, public affairs director for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, faults the Safe Schools Act for the exemption and for not including misdemeanor sexual assaults.

“It does seem like it’s a loophole,” Sexton said. She said schools should report all assaults to police, who can then decide how to move forward.

“The obligations should be greater in a campus setting where the children are living and relying on the school to care for them,” Sexton said.

She said the law should be re-examined.

Police and officials from several other New Hampshire preparatory schools said they have agreements in place or are working on them. “It actually holds us more accountable to report anything and everything,” said Brook Raney, dean of students at the 340-student Kimball Union Academy.

She said any kind of assault would be reported to police and the state Division of Children Youth and Families.

Most students at prep schools are minors, and state law requires the reporting of any abuse against minors, she said.

Once Kimball Union students turn 18, they are instructed about mandatory reporting, Raney said. Kimball Union even reports possession of a marijuana joint to police.

“It helps to be a deterrent, to let kids know we have to report,” she said.

New Hampton Police Chief George Huckins said he is working on an agreement with New Hampton School, but it has not been finalized. He said misdemeanor assault is a “gray area.”

Arrests don’t have to necessarily lead to criminal charges, and some times it forces the teenager into help, Huckins said.

Phillips Exeter Academy supplied a copy of its agreement with Exeter police. It says nothing of misdemeanor sexual assault.

In cases of simple assault, the principal will consider the Phillips Exeter disciplinary policy before deciding whether to report it to police, the agreement reads. When drugs are discovered, the school will contact police “so that arrangements can be made for a police officer to take immediate possession of the drug.”

The agreement also spells out procedures for police interviews with minor students.

That agreement can be viewed below:

Education Public Safety Concord Exeter

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