Suffield police have arrested the retiring superintendent of schools and a former Suffield parks and recreation department employee after investigations into unrelated allegations that they failed to comply with mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect.
Police said they have obtained warrants for 68-year-old Karen Berasi, of Suffield, the former Suffield superintendent, as well as 58-year-old Cynthia Fisher, of Windsor Locks, who police said was the assistant director for the parks and recreation department at the time of the incident.
The interim superintendent released a statement Thursday about Berasi’s arrest, saying the board accepted her retirement earlier this week and it is effective June 30.
“She has been, and will continue to be, relieved of all duties. We anticipate initiating a search process for a new Superintendent of Schools within the next several weeks,” Interim Superintendent of Schools Mark Winzler said in a statement.
The Suffield Board of Education voted in August to place Berasi on paid leave amid a police investigation into whether school administrators and members of senior leadership of the Suffield Public School district, including the superintendent, failed to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Suffield police began the investigation into the allegation of a conversation about a sex shop between an adult and a student at Suffield High School after a student’s parent reported it, according to the arrest warrant application. Police previously said they were looking to answer whether Berasi and other school officials, who are mandated reporters of child abuse by Connecticut law, properly handled the reporting of the allegation to DCF.
The arrest warrant application says a student’s mother contacted Berasi on May 2 to report that her child felt “weird” after having a conversation with a school staff member about the VIP store in Manchester and the mother wanted something done so the student and staff member would not be alone together.
The school started the investigation the morning after the parent reached out and the child’s mother reached back out that night in frustration with the school’s response, then contacted DCF, according to the arrest warrant application.
It was at that point that DCF started investigating.
When Berasi spoke with DCF, she told them she thought it was a false claim and that the employee who was accused had denied the allegations, according to the arrest warrant application.
The court documents go on to say police determined that if the conversation between the student and staff member occurred it did not amount to a criminal act and referred the case to DCF who closed the case because they did not have enough evidence to support the allegations, the arrest warrant application says.
Berasi released the following statement in August:
“We expect to be fully exonerated when the details are heard. The public does not know the background of the case, nor all the steps that we as mandated reporters took immediately and within the first 48 hours,” Berasi wrote in a statement.
The arrest warrant application says that state law requires mandated reporters to relay an oral report within 12 hours if they believe a child has been abused, neglected or placed in imminent risk.
Fisher is accused of failing to file a report after a camp supervisor contacted her about a camper who made allegations about a family member throwing a sibling against the wall, according to the arrest warrant application.
Police said Fisher learned of the incident on July 3, but did not report it to the director of parks and recreation until almost a month later.
Upon learning of the allegations, the director notified police and the state Department of Children and Families and the First Selectman’s Office launched an administrative investigation and asked for a criminal investigation, according to officials.
Town officials addressed the allegations in August without naming the employee and said the person on administrative leave during the investigation.
When Fisher spoke with police, she said she did not report the incident to DCF. She told them she knew the family and felt she could take care of it herself, so she called a family member, the arrest warrant application says.
Berasi and Fisher and have been charged with report of abuse of neglect by a mandated reporter and turned themselves in to police today.
Both were released on promises to appear and they are due in court on Nov. 20.