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Wilmington schools suspend staffer after DCF supports abuse allegation; middle school staffer now under investigation

The state’s child protection agency is investigating an allegation that a middle school staffer in the Wilmington public schools abused at least one student, which comes after another staffer was placed on leave for allegedly abusing a special needs student in an early childhood center.

In a letter to parents Wednesday, Wilmington Schools Superintendent Glenn Brand wrote that the Department of Children and Families had sustained allegations that a staffer at the Wildwood Early Childhood Center had abused or neglected at least one child. The center offers pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes in 11 classrooms, according to state records and Wilmington Schools.

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“We placed the staff in question on administrative leave as soon as we were made aware of those claims,” Brand wrote, adding that an outside investigator has been hired to examine the circumstances at Wildwood. “We recently learned from DCF that some of the claims have been supported.”

Now, the issue has expanded to a separate school and facility — the town’s middle school, which serves grades six through eight.

“Last week, we became aware of a separate series of allegations of misconduct by a staff member at Wilmington Middle School,” Brand wrote. “That staff member has also been placed on administrative leave pending a DCF investigation.”

Brand did not identify the jobs held by the persons under DCF investigation. “Out of respect for all those involved and based on legal requirements, we are not able to discuss the specifics of these cases,” he wrote.

Boston attorney Steven I. Bergel represents six parents whose children are current or former students at the Wildwood Early Childhood Center. DCF has supported allegations of abuse and neglect involving a special needs child of one of his clients, but DCF has not yet reported to the other parents whether the child protection agency supports their allegations.

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Bergel said Brand’s acknowledgement that new allegations are being made against a middle school staffer is an extremely worrisome development for both parents and students in the Wilmington schools.

“This doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better, and it seems like it’s not a contained situation to one person, one school,” Bergel said. “It sounds like this has many tentacles.”

On a positive note, Bergel said he is confident that private attorney Patrick Hanley, the outside investigator, is committed to a truly transparent investigation. He said Hanley has already interviewed some of his clients.

“We are waiting for the outcome,’' he said. “Hopefully the right thing will be done.”

Brand said the department will continue to “examine our internal policies to ensure our training, handbooks and reporting procedures are in line with best practices for student safety....Let me be very clear: the allegations in each of these cases are wholly unacceptable, counter to the values of WPS and will not be tolerated.”

Brand said the Wilmington Public Schools will provide support to parents and children who come forward and report new instances of potential misconduct.

“We do wish to state unequivocally that any student or family who comes forward with allegations of misconduct, harassment or abuse will have those allegations investigated with the thoroughness and seriousness that they deserve,” he wrote.

Brand did not indicate when Hanley will complete his work.


John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.