Providence seeks to end ties with principal who failed to report abuse allegations
PROVIDENCE — City school officials are moving to sever ties with an elementary school principal who was convicted in 2018 of failing to report child abuse allegations to the proper authorities, two full school years after she was placed on paid leave by the district.
Violet LeMar, who was hired as the principal of Harry Kizirian Elementary School in 2013, has been paid $206,000 since she was put on leave in August 2017, according to district spokesperson Laura Hart.
Hart confirmed last week that the school department chose to not renew LeMar’s contract, but she declined to comment on the reason behind the decision.
Jeffrey D. Sowa, one LeMar’s attorneys, said the school administrator non-renewal process is dictated by state law and is still pending.
LeMar, 47, was charged with a misdemeanor for not reporting sexual abuse allegations made by two children against a physical education teacher at Kizirian school in 2017 to the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families. She was convicted following a bench trial last year, but is appealing the case in Superior Court.
The teacher, 59-year-old James Duffy, was charged with six counts of second-degree child molestation and a single count of simple assault in 2017. His criminal case is still pending.
But the charge against LeMar took on a higher profile than Duffy’s case because she was among the first school employees charged under a revised version of the state’s failure to report law that requires adults to contact DCYF within 24 hours of becoming aware of allegations of sexual abuse against a student.
During a four-day trial – a rarity for misdemeanor cases – three high-ranking school department officials, including Superintendent Christopher Maher, testified that they weren’t familiar with the law at the time LeMar was charged.
LeMar, who was the only school employee charged for failing to report to DCYF in connection with the incident, also testified that she wasn’t aware of the law, although she claimed she didn’t find the allegations from two girls against Duffy to be “sexual or abusive in nature.”
During the trial, LeMar’s attorney, Thomas Gulick, portrayed his client as a well-respected principal who had no previous disciplinary record since taking over Kizirian school in 2013. She previously worked as an educator in Fall River and Brockton.
But prosecutors argued that ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, suggesting LeMar was the one adult the students trusted to talk to about Duffy’s alleged abuse.
“She’s not a bad person, no one said she is,” Ania Zielinski, a special assistant attorney general, said during the trial. “But she made a criminal mistake.”
Before handing LeMar a one-year suspended sentence and 150 hours of community service in January 2018, District Court Judge James J. Caruolo said he found “her testimony and her actions this case to be false and deceptive.”
LeMar is now seeking a jury trial in her appeal. Her next scheduled appearance in court is July 10.
LeMar’s conviction prompted state lawmakers to make another revision to the failure to report law, allowing for a school principal to appoint a designee to contact DCYF if a child makes an abuse claim. The goal was to prevent every adult who becomes aware of a student’s allegations from facing a criminal charge unless they contact DCYF within 24 hours.
Nicholas Hemond, an attorney who serves as president of the Providence School Board, said he was recently informed the district intended to let go LeMar, but he acknowledged he wasn’t familiar with the reasons.
Hemond noted that a decision to not renew a school principal’s contract is different from an attempt to fire the person. He said he didn’t know why the district chose to keep LeMar on paid leave for two years, except her appeal was pending.
“I don’t think it would be fair to her to fire her over a DCYF law no one knew existed,” Hemond said.