Milton’s School Board announced it is done investigating whether officials violated hazing and bullying prevention policies. Nine months later, members offered no real stance on a private investigator’s damning report.
The school district paid $10,000 to hire retired Vermont state trooper Dan Troidl following the revelation that five former Yellowjackets engaged in inappropriate behavior on the football team in 2011-12.
They all took various plea deals in criminal court in 2014-15. Questions lingered, however, as to whether school officials knew about the incidents and
properly reported them.
Newly hired school chief Ann Bradshaw’s conclusive statement, however – presented at Monday night’s board meeting – didn’t definitively answer these questions or whether she agreed with Troidl’s findings.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” she read. “When high school administrators heard what was reported as misconduct, … they responded to the information they had.”
Bradshaw was referring to now-former superintendent John Barone and high school principal Anne Blake, whom Troidl failed for their handling of sexual assault allegations on the team. Victim Jordan Preavy’s family alleged the assault contributed to his 2012 suicide.
School leaders were never criminally charged with failure to report, a statute the Preavy family has since successfully lobbied to strengthen.
Assistant principal Scott Thompson and athletic director Joe Solomon – who have since resigned – were also faulted, as was gym teacher/coach Jim O’Grady, though to a lesser degree.
The board terminated Barone in February. Blake’s contract was renewed on March 31, more than a month before Bradshaw finished the review. O’Grady will also stay on next year, school records show.
Board member Karen LaFond’s statement, parts of which she read through near-tears, said the school’s attorney advised the board to limit comment on the report’s contents, as the district faces a civil lawsuit from the Preavys.
Court documents show parties must disclose experts by June 1, with all depositions complete by August 1.
LaFond, Bradshaw and board chairwoman Lori Donna wouldn’t answer further questions, saying their prepared statements speak for themselves.
“We are not going to have it as an agenda item, and we are not going to have any further discussion of the matter,” Donna said, noting the board would decide to say more once the lawsuit is resolved.
Bradshaw initially declined to discuss what constituted her review but followed up via email Tuesday, saying she looked over the Troidl report, Milton Independent articles and affidavits from the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations that handled the criminal case.
She also interviewed Blake, O’Grady, Solomon, athletic director Michael Jabour and new football coach Drew Gordon and watched prior school board meetings on tape.
In her statement, Bradshaw summarized the district’s actions to prevent these incidents, including increased supervision with more guidance staff, hiring a full-time AD and maintaining a school resource officer “despite difficult financial times.”
Students also no longer use the blockhouse, where some of the assaults took place, Bradshaw said.
And starting this fall, faculty and staff will be trained in newly adopted hazing, harassment and bullying prevention policies. On Monday night, the board approved spending more than $19,000 to hire an expert to assess the school district’s culture and report back.
Bradshaw thinks the high school is already doing a great job, she said.
“Interactions among students and adults are respectful,” she read. “I … am confident and optimistic with regard to the culture at the high school.”
LaFond said there are “no easy answers” to ensure this never happens again in Milton but suggested policies and procedures alone aren’t enough.
“You have to stay involved in what is happening with your kids,” she said, adding, “We must model the behaviors we expect to see from our children.”
The last two years were a “painful and emotional time” that Milton will never forget, LaFond said.