Tuesday was day one of a new "Student Safety Action Plan “ put in place across Hartford Public Schools, which is being enacted after the Office of the Child Advocate found the district mishandled cases of child abuse claims for years.
Hartford requested the OCA review its system after the resignation and arrest of former school administrator Eduardo Genao.
The OCA found the district didn't regularly review its mandated reporting policy as required by law, and sometimes failed to complete a paper trail of suspected abuse among school staffers. The report stated that training wasn't up to speed and punishment was lacking.
Community Advocate Dr. Aaron Lewis was criticized for how he responded a mother's concerns that Genao was sending her 13-year-old daughter graphic text messages. Genao has pleaded not guilty. Lewis said there were problems with the district, but he had no idea how magnified they were until the report came out.
“They need to make it clear to the parents and the teachers that when you come forward there aren't going to be any repercussions you aren't going to get in trouble – a lot teachers are afraid to come forward,” Lewis said.
He also defended his actions in the Genao case.
“I did initiate the process of the investigation and it's interesting because people still continue to think I should've acted sooner. And I acted as soon - within that 12-hour period - that I was able to do with information that would actually get a conviction," Lewis told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters.
The mother of the child in the Genao case brought a lawsuit against the district and said she is pleased to see progress come out of her family’s situation.
“I’m glad with me bringing this to light, and bringing a lawsuit against the district was not in vain, as much as I don't like the fact my daughter is going through this, we're going through this at least other children in the district hopefully will be helped,” she told NBC Connecticut by phone on Tuesday.
Acting Hartford Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez told NBC Connecticut she was upset by the findings in the report and was committed to changing the culture in the district to prevent future issues.
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters obtained the templates for two letters sent to staffers and students detailing the new action plan.
School staff meetings were held Tuesday morning to implement the acting superintendent's new student safety action plan to make sure all employees understand they are mandated reporters. Administrators also shared hotline numbers, warning signs of abuse and contact info for specialized staff that can help children in need. That information must remain posted in all classrooms.
While the schools change their practices, some parents say they'll continue to have tough conversations with their kids themselves.
Social workers will be having meetings to further define spots for improvement and the district is working on scheduling community meetings for parents.