PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Public School Department this week released data showing 24 employees missed a combined 920 school days last school year because of abuse investigations by the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families.
DCYF cleared all of the employees except one teacher assistant, who was fired for undisclosed reasons on March 28, according to the data. The employees, mostly teachers, missed 278 days while DCYF investigated, and then missed another 642 days before they were permitted by the school department to return to work.
School officials initially released data that showed the employees had missed a total of 1,116 days, but spokesperson Emily Martineau announced late Thursday the department had given out incorrect numbers.
Target 12 made a public records request for the DCYF-related administrative leave data from the school department after an August report showed nearly 500 teachers were “chronically absent,” meaning they missed at least 18 of 180 school days last year.
The Providence Teachers Union at the time pushed back on the absenteeism data, saying one reason many teachers were out was due to DCYF investigations that took a long time to conduct.
Union president Maribeth Calabro pointed to the subsequent investigations by police and human resources that happen after DCYF has completed its inquiry as contributing to the lengthy time spent out of the classroom, even when teachers haven’t done anything wrong.
“It takes a really long time,” Calabro said during an interview with Target 12 last week.
The DCYF investigations resulted in 19 teachers missing more 879 days, representing more than half the days missed by chronically absent teachers on administrative leave and 5% of the 18,984 days missed by all chronically absent teachers.
The school department released the DCYF data Tuesday. It does not include details about whether teachers were suspended or disciplined for their actions.
It took the Providence schools weeks to put the data together, and Martineau could not answer a series of follow-up questions about the information on Tuesday or Wednesday. She said the person who could provide answers was out sick.
Calabro attributed the high number of teachers out on administrative leave to a 2016 law change championed by Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, which required school employees to report all suspected abuse to DCYF.
After a report of abuse is made to DCYF, teachers are automatically put on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation, according to school policy.
Everyone is mandated to report suspected abuse in Rhode Island to DCYF, but the law change specifically focused on school employees. A year later, Harry Kizirian Elementary School principal Violet LeMar was charged for failing to contact DCYF after a gym teacher was accused of molesting students.
“I think when the new law was put out by Senator Goodwin, people took [reporting] to another level,” Calabro said.
Due to incorrect information provided by the city schools, the initial version of this article said the employees had missed 1,116 days; the revised article uses the city’s corrected data.