School social worker allegedly let students smoke marijuana - WFSB 3 Connecticut

I-Team Investigation

School social worker allegedly let students smoke marijuana

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Windham High School (WFSB) Windham High School (WFSB)

There are allegations of drug use inside of a Connecticut high school, where permission is reportedly being given by school staff.

Parent Lisa Dunnack said she started to notice changes in her teenage son, and feared that it had to do with his close relationship with a social worker at Windham High School.

She said she sat him and a friend down and pretended that she knew what was going on.

“I got the boys together and I said, I know what's going on, you need to stop protecting her, I know what's going on,” Dunnack said.

During their talk, she said she got an answer that she wasn't expecting.

They reportedly told her that their social worker “knows we get high, she lets us get high, it's our group,” Dunnack said.

She said she was stunned hearing her son reportedly admit to smoking marijuana during the school day and said the social worker not only knew about it but encouraged it, saying he worked better when he was high.

When Dunnack started asking parents and students in her son's class what they knew, she said students also claimed they hid marijuana in the social worker's office and even did drug deals in there.

Parent Edgar Collazo said the Windham Public Schools let his child down.

Dunnack said she called a guidance counselor who she said she trusted, and that person told her “this has to go to DCF immediately, you need to contact the superintendent.”

In a three-page letter, Dunnack explained what she believed was going on.

She said she gave dozens of names of students who she said could corroborate everything.

“I contacted all of the parents and I said ‘they're going to be getting a hold of you, they're going to be doing an investigation, wait for them to call.' A week goes by, a month goes by, nothing,” Dunnack said.

The Eyewitness News I-Team began digging to get some answers.

Through Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team requested the full personnel file for that social worker and for a principal who Dunnack said knew about the allegations.

Both the social worker and principal were placed on leave after the complaints were filed.

The I-Team also obtained a letter from then Windham Superintendent Ana Ortiz, who said she received Dunnack's allegations but decided not to contact police or the Department of Children and Families.

She apparently considered allegations that a staff member was allowing students to get high to simply be an employment issue.

She did hire a private investigator, but that private eye eventually resigned because of an illness.

It was weeks after Dunnack first made the allegations before police were notified.

She said it took the district two months to notify police about what was allegedly happening.

Even then, Ortiz said that notifying DCF was unnecessary because she claimed the allegations were “hearsay.”

Dunnack said after the chief of police read the complaint, DCF officials were quickly at her doorstep.

Willimantic police said the allegations were forwarded to the Windham State's Attorney, who said “We don't conduct our investigations in public. Any investigation that produces an arrest results in a public record of that arrest."

Court records showed no arrests have been made.

The principal is back on the job but in a different role.

When police notified DCF, they did investigate and according to a document obtained by the I-Team, allegations of emotional and moral neglect were substantiated against the social worker.

The document said Ortiz felt the allegations did not need to go to DCF and when someone else realized she was wrong, DCF was the only agency to say it all happened.

DCF declined to comment on the issue, citing child privacy law.

Attorney Richard Padykula said he represents the social worker.

"We're aware of the allegations that were made by certain parents and some students in the district," he said. "I can assure you those allegations are utter nonsense and completely false."

Padykula would not discuss the DCF findings because he said the process is confidential. However, he did promise to appeal any findings from any agency that says there was wrongdoing.

He also promised the social worker will sue the parents who made the allegations for slander.

"I think that we will be able to disprove those allegations, rather easily and conclusively going forward," Padykula said.

DCF said that schools are mandated reporters of suspected abuse and neglect, and that any allegations must be forwarded to DCF if there is any reasonable suspicious of wrongdoing.

It said of the 90,000 tips they get each year, schools are among the most frequent reporters.

The I-Team is not identifying the social worker allegedly involved because while it is confirmed that DCF has substantiated neglect charges against her, her lawyer said she plans to appeal any investigation that suggests she's guilty.

She is still listed on the Windham High School website, and the state's Department of Education said her certification as a school social worker is still valid.

However, unless the DCF charges are overturned, it is likely she wouldn't be able to work in a school setting.

In a statement, Windham Public Schools said:

"The Windham Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Patricia Garcia are proud of all of the school district's staff members who work hard every day to make the school district a wonderful learning community for all of the school district's students. In addition to its commitment to creating higher performing schools and providing a rigorous core curriculum for its students, the Windham Public School district is dedicated to providing a safe and secure environment for all of the district's students. The school district's dedication to a safe and secure learning environment for its students is reflected in all aspects of the administration of the district, including in staffing decisions. In accordance with state law, the district performs reference checks and background checks, through both the State Police and the Department of Children and Families, on new employees, in addition to evaluating and supervising all of its employees long after the date of hire. Moreover, to the extent practicable, the district's administration monitors staff member interactions with students, and when concerns are raised, such concerns are either investigated by district administration or referred to the appropriate authorities as required by law."

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