Community members question safety of Farmington's public schools during investigation by outside agency

Farmington High School

FARMINGTON — The school district’s superintendent and a principal who were placed on leave while acts of violence at Farmington High School were investigated have been reinstated.

Superintendent Ruth Ellen Vaughn and Principal Barbara Gardner were placed on paid administrative leave by the school board during an emergency meeting in May after police officials reported that a student and his parents had complained about an assault by a female student.

The young woman allegedly struck the teenage boy in the head from behind while he was talking with a teacher and then twice more in the face when he turned around.

Police Chief John Drury said at the time his school resource officer was not notified about the assault, even though it was a reportable offense.

During a separate incident, a student grabbed a hammer and threatened to assault a teacher. School officials did not provide the school resource officer with information regarding that case, either.

Attorney Jim Bianco represents Gardner and other high school principals throughout the state. He said on Thursday that Gardner did not believe the incidents rose to the level of reportable offenses when they were described to her.

Bianco said that Municipal Resources, Inc., concluded there were no issues with reporting after their independent investigation.

“It’s unfortunate that it all came out in the public before they had an opportunity to review the facts and determine whether or not she had violated the statute,” Bianco said. “It got blown out of proportion, but to the school board’s credit, they hired someone to check it out.”

Bianco said Gardner was not aware of some of the issues relating to violence at the high school and when she was aware of them, they were presented to her as kids acting out as opposed to something that required reporting.

“When she heard it, that’s all she heard. She wasn’t there. She heard it third-hand and said, ‘Based on this, I don’t think it rises to that level,’ so therefore she didn’t report. It’s not that she didn’t work with the police,” Bianco said.

Bianco said Gardner worked with police on issues that were more egregious and student safety has always been a top priority for her.

Drury said on Thursday that members of his department met with school officials every two weeks throughout the summer and he believes any communications issues that may have existed between their agency and school officials have been addressed.

“We made a lot of progress over the last six months,” Drury said.

Drury said he is confident all of the students in the district will be safe in school this year.

In addition to addressing acts of violence by students, Homeland Security has been involved to advise school officials about overall safety measures. Drury said every classroom in the district was visited over the summer.

“The schools have been working hard with us to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things to keep the schools safe,” Drury said.

Joel Chagnon, the school board’s chair, and Town Administrator Arthur Capello could not be reached for comment on Thursday.