Dr. Thomas Smith, superintendent of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District, provided this statement to MercerMe this afternoon:
“On November 4, 2019, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education (BOE) held a special meeting concerning the recent Tort Claims Notice filed with the District. Since this matter involves potential litigation concerning a pupil and a staff member, the Board is constrained in its ability to comment. To the extent that the Board may disseminate information, the following statement is shared. It details the administration’s actions in this matter, as reviewed by the Board, and indicates the following:
- The allegations contained in the Tort Claim Notice are significantly different from the allegations raised during both the 2016-17 and 2018-19 school years.
- When the student first raised the allegations in February/March 2017, the TMS (Timberlane Middle School) principal notified the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency’s (“DCP&P”) Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit and local law enforcement in accordance with law and Board Policy. The Institutional Abuse Investigation Unit is the administrative agency arm charged with the responsibility to investigate allegations of child abuse in out-of-home settings, including schools. Once notification is made, the District must defer to the authorities and refrain from any investigation of its own. The parents were also notified of the situation at that time. Upon reviewing the reported accusations, DCP&P and the police chose not to investigate. The District reviewed the matter internally and developed appropriate measures to address the concerns raised. Subsequently, the student reported that the situation improved.
- When additional (different) allegations were brought forth in November 2018, the District’s administration again notified DCP&P and local law enforcement, as well as the parents. Upon review of the new allegations, law enforcement determined that it would not investigate the matter and deferred the investigation to DCP&P. This action was communicated to the Board.
- The DCP&P investigator met with the student, the student’s parents, the staff member and several other district students. While the DCP&P investigation was pending, the student, accompanied by a parent, made a third set of more serious allegations to District staff in January 2019. Once more, the District’s administration immediately notified DCP&P and local law enforcement. Based on the latest allegations, the Hopewell Township Police and Mercer County Prosecutor’s office suspended the DCP&P investigation and conducted their own criminal investigation. During this time, the teacher was placed on leave, and the Board subsequently approved this action, until the investigation was concluded.
- As a result of its investigation, the Prosecutor’s office determined that it would not bring any criminal charges, and the DCP&P investigation resumed. At the conclusion of that investigation, DCP&P notified the District that the agency had determined that the charges were unfounded. DCP&P did not find any errors with the procedures followed by the District, nor did it recommend any remedial action concerning the district’s handling of this matter.Only upon completion of the investigation and the findings communicated to the District was the teacher returned to the classroom.
“Upon careful review of the facts presented herein, the BOE and its legal counsel express confidence in the process followed by District staff and administration and in the findings determined via the DCP&P investigation.
“The Board recognizes that codes of conduct and socially acceptable behaviors and norms continue to change and evolve. The BOE will continue to review applicable Board policies to ensure that they support these changes, and to ensure appropriate reporting to the Board in a timely manner.
“In compliance with New Jersey Professional Development Requirements in Statute and Regulations, all HVRSD Staff members receive regular training in Sexual Harassment, Affirmative Action and Harassment, and Intimidation and Bullying in addition to other required training.
The Board takes these matters very seriously. Student safety, health and well being are of paramount importance in all Board considerations. Our school community is reminded that the District has instituted a variety of measures for reporting any issues related to student safety, including anonymous methods such as our District TIP line at 609-737-4000 x 8477 (TIPS) or firstname.lastname@example.org.”