Rhode Island · School Talk

WPRI’s Dan McGowan With a ‘Must Read’ on the Guilty Verdict of School Principal Violet LeMar

We are very lucky to have Dan McGowan in Providence because he provides us with the information that all of us want and often struggle to find. In the aftermath of the multi-day trial of elementary school principal Violet LeMar in which the judge found her guilty, McGowan does his best to help all of us make heads or tails of this confusing case. With all the misinformation flying around social media—and the comment sections that inflame more than they inform—this round up by McGowan is a must read for everyone in the Ocean State. And for those outside the state, consider this an important reminder that if you aren’t clear on the mandatory reporting laws in your state, now is the time to change that.

Here are the first few questions but to read McGowan’s full piece, visit WPRI.com here. 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence elementary school principal convicted in District Court of failing to contact the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families after students approached her with accusations that a physical education teacher touched them inappropriately has already appealed her case to Superior Court.

But while the case of Harry Kizirian Elementary School principal Violet LeMar makes its way through the legal system, here’s a look at some of the most frequently asked questions that weren’t answered during her first trial.

Will anyone else be charged in the Providence investigation?
There isn’t a clear answer to this question. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said in October the investigation was complete, but during her closing arguments on Friday prosecutor Ania Zielinski left open the possibility that others could face criminal or civil penalties. On the witness stand last week, Providence police detective Brian Dyer stopped short of saying the investigation was closed, explaining that he couldn’t answer attorney Thomas Gulick’s question without discussing the case with the attorney general’s office. We do know that no fewer than 10 school employees were aware of the students’ accusations against their gym teacher last May. Most of them did not have the same firsthand conversations with students that LeMar did, but the law does not specifically say whether first-hand conversations are a requirement. Amy Kempe, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment.

Aren’t all adults in Rhode Island considered mandatory reporters?
Yes, but LeMar was charged under a specific provision in the law that focused on “education programs” – like schools – that was approved in 2016. In the past, sexual abuse allegations against school employees would have been dealt with “solely by the police,” according to Kerri White, a spokesperson for DCYF. Now the law clearly states that “any person who has reasonable cause to know or suspect that any child has been the victim of sexual abuse by an employee, agent, contractor, or volunteer of an educational program” must contact DCYF within 24 hours after they become aware of the allegations.

Didn’t multiple officials say they weren’t familiar with the DCYF reporting law?
On the witness stand, the superintendent of Providence schools, the department’s head of human resources and the executive director of elementary schools all testified that they were unaware of the changes to the law prior to the LeMar incident. While that may be true, there is at least some evidence that the R.I. Department of Education sent a reminder to school officials. In a field memo he wrote in December 2016 (Item #17), Education Commissioner Ken Wagner reminded school leaders that they were required to post notice about a DCYF hotline. The memo also made it clear that everyone is a mandated reporter.


To continue reading McGowan’s list of questions, click here.

Dan McGowan joined the Eyewitness News team in January 2013 as a digital reporter for WPRI.com, where he covers Providence, politics and education.

Prior to joining WPRI 12, Dan spent two years with the Providence journalism startup GoLocalProv and was promoted to news editor while he was a graduate student at Boston University. 

What do you think?

One thought on “WPRI’s Dan McGowan With a ‘Must Read’ on the Guilty Verdict of School Principal Violet LeMar

  1. Now every whiff of a possible case will be sent to DCYF..which is ill-equipped to handle this basically unfunded mandate. Another good example of good intentions without consequence analysis.

    Interesting question was would the situation been better if the Principal had simply followed the law.? I doubt based on the evidence (inappropriate touching for sure, but I suspect less than other cases DCYF has to investigate) DCYF would have gotten the teacher out of there in hours like the Principal did. Ignorance of the law is no excuse and I suppose technically it was a crime, but it really appears this judge wanted to make her an example – if so, and everyone is a reporter, then let’s go after everyone in the system who was made aware. Otherwise, she is just the sacrificial lamb so now we’ll move to the full end of reporting everything that even hints of abuse – despite an organization that can’t even handle the situation prior to this.

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