EXCLUSIVE: Hartford teachers union says district practice costing students, teachers and taxpayers

HARTFORD --  According to the Hartford School District, 95 school employees have been placed on paid administrative leave this school year amid allegations of abuse or misconduct.

Hartford Federation of Teachers President Andrea Johnson said the district has developed an unofficial practice of immediately placing teachers on paid leave upon accusations of misconduct.

The union said the practice started after a 2017 report from the Office of the Child Advocate, which found widespread district failures to report child abuse and neglect and to comply with Title IX obligations meant to protect against sexual harassment.

“I’m not aware of any other district that has a blanket policy that says regardless of the allegation, the teacher, the para [professional], would be put on administrative leave,” said Hartford Federation of Teachers attorney Eric Chester. “That’s unique to Hartford.”

A DCF investigation typically takes 45 days to complete, but the union said the district has kept some teachers out for more than six months.

“I think that the report. I think that might’ve said a panic in our district,” said Johnson.

The Office of the Child Advocate’s report was prompted by the 2016 arrest of district administrator Eddie Genao, who was accused of sending sexually explicit texts to a 13-year-old girl. The report reveals Genao was promoted several times over the years, despite a 2007 investigation that led to a written reprimand and lateral transfer.

DCF investigation that found Genao engaged in “grooming” behaviors with a student while he was a school principal. A judge dismissed Genao’s child endangerment charges in 2017 because of a lack of jurisdiction.

The teacher’s union said the situation caused the district to quickly overcompensate with a broad-brush practice of putting everyone on automatic leave, no matter the accusation.

“Perhaps if it had been thought out a little bit better, we wouldn’t have these numbers and this atrocious situation we’re in right now,” said Johnson.

“They [administrators] should be able to look at a case and, perhaps in consultation with DCF, and say 'well, does this person really pose a risk?'” said Chester.

The Hartford School District said it has set the bar high in the wake of the OCA report, stressing its priority is to create distance between the student and alleged offender until an investigation is complete.

In a statement, the district outlined its new guidelines:

“If the allegation relates to physical abuse/neglect or sexual abuse or any other behavior that is seriously disruptive to the educational/work environment or otherwise compromises student or staff safety, the employee shall immediately be placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into his or her behavior.”

The district said paid administrative leave percentages are higher this year over last, but have declined month by month. According to the district, seven claims have been substantiated.

Johnson said the union and the superintendent’s office have regular monthly meetings, but that the problem is out of control. “It’s out the door,” said Johnson. “It’s like now, try to pull that horse back in the barn door. Tough. I don’t see it getting better.”

Of the 95 employees placed on paid leave this school year, 41 are currently out on leave. Those 41 employees include 26 teachers, three school security officers, five paraeducators and one administrator.