Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London has been under the microscope of local police for many months. Now, the Office of the Child Advocate is doing its own investigation into the policies and procedures that may have failed students they should have been protecting.
Last spring, three Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School employees were arrested. Two were charged with sexual assault, including 35-year-old Corriche Gaskin, accused of raping a seventh grader. The allegations were so alarming that New London’s mayor requested a review from the state’s Child Advocate.
“It was a real sense of urgency both for students and his community to restore transparency and trust,” said State of Connecticut Child Advocate Sarah Eagan.
Eagan said her investigation is still ongoing.
“We’ve looked at educational records, child welfare records, personnel records, and law enforcement information, “ she said.
This week, she sent the mayor, the school district, and the state Department of Education a seven-page status update, including a list of policy recommendations. Among them, limitations on closed-door after hour activities and electronic communication between students and staff. She’s suggested that the district closely monitor after school district-sponsored activities as well.
“It’s a starting point. We’ve got to get together, roll up our sleeves, and do the work of implementing them,” said Eagan.
Gaskin, an aide tasked with improving relations between students and teachers, was arrested twice last spring and faces five counts of risk of injury to a child and one count of sexual abuse. He pleaded not guilty. So has former paraprofessional, 25-year-old Jevon Elmore, who’s also charged with sexual assault. Thirty-five-year-old middle school teacher Melissa Rodriguez has also entered a not guilty plea for her alleged failures as a mandated reporter.
“We have to do more than what we’re doing,” said Eagan.
The district’s superintendent, Cynthia Richie, declined to speak on camera, but said in a statement, “For the past several months, we have worked to review each and every employee file, our procedures and our policies, and we will continue to do so. There is no area that is not being deeply reviewed.”
Eagan said child sexual abuse is most likely to occur in schools that fail to acknowledge that it can occur, and said that’s all too common.
“Child sexual abuse is not a New London problem. It’s an everywhere problem,” she stated, noting that nationwide child sexual abuse in schools is more prevalent than most people realize and is often underreported.