GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 6, 2013

Y staff to replace W. Parish program leaders

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — GLOUCESTER — The after-school program at West Parish School, shut down abruptly over the weekend amid a Gloucester Police, District Attorney’s office and state Department of Children and Families investigation into a still-undefined incident and concern over the program’s level of supervision, is expected to reopen next week at the school with new supervisors affiliated with the Cape Ann YMCA.

Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier wrote in an email to the Times Tuesday that staff members from the YMCA will be brought in to host a reopening of the after-school program at the school as early as next week

The fate of the former program staff members, who worked for the school district, remained unclear Tuesday — Safier did not explicitly state whether they had been let go, resigned or were transferred, for example, and West Parish Principal Telena Imel did not return calls placed by the Times seeking information and comment.

Brian Flynn, the interim Executive Director of the Cape Ann YMCA, confirmed Tuesday night that four staff members from the facility will be replacing the three former supervisors for the after-school program, which had served some 60 families and 82 children.

Flynn, who also oversees other YMCA after-school programs, said the solution may be temporary, but YMCA staff members come highly qualified and trained. He added that he hopes the new program will be in place by next Wednesday, adding that he and Safier first spoke about the solution over the weekend.

Flynn said typical after-school activities include home work assistance, healthy snacks, physical activities and arts and craft. He said YMCA staff members have been operating similar after school programs at East Gloucester Elementary School and Veterans’ Memorial School since 2011.

“We are stepping in to meet the needs of working-class families,” he said Tuesday.

The original was indefinitely shut down after an investigation was launched by school officials in conjunction with state and local authorities being informed, Safier noted in a letter to parents issued Friday.

The after-school program operated for about 16 years and the school itself serves students in kindergarten through grade 5. The program included three supervisors, one substitute supervisor and served about 80 children; with about 35 using the program daily.

The program was run by the school district, and was funded through self sustaining fees; the supervisors were school employees, but not teachers, Safier said.

The previous fees ranged from $5 to $8 depending on the sessions; Safier said for the length of the YMCA program this year, the cost will be about the same.

Parents who had children enrolled in the program were usually required to pay one month in advance, and Safier said Tuesday that payments for the month of March were mailed back to parents on Monday.

In a letter issued Friday to parents issued, in advance of a Friday night meeting that included Safier, Mayor Carolny Kirk and Police Chief Leonard Campanello, Safier noted the program’s inability to provide adequate supervision came to the attention of school officials “quite recently,” but he again did not elaborate on what specifically instigated the investigation or when officials became aware of the program’s faults.

”We felt the need to examine the entire program, locations, who is supervising where and when, and student movement between supervisory areas,” he wrote in an email to the Times Tuesday.

Families who spoke to the Times Monday had indicated that shutdown was tied to an incident involving “inappropriate behavior” among older students in the program, but no city or law enforcement officials have confirmed that, and Campanello emphasized the investigation is ongoing. Campanello has said that the investigation so far remains “procedural;” that there is no confirmation any crime has been committed.

The letter from Safier also indicates that school officials were the first ones to alert local and state authorities after an internal investigation.

In the letter, Safier conceded the sudden and indefinite shutdown will cause some inconvenience with parents.

”This step is necessary, however, to ensure that the after school care program is properly staffed, supervised and continues to provide a safe environment for children,” he wrote.

Campanello told the Times Tuesday that no parent was instructed not to talk to their children about the program; but some parents were notified before the Friday night meeting about details of the shutdown. Parents not notified prior to Friday night’s meeting should have no great cause for concern, he said, reiterating that the probe involves only the after-school program and has not seeped into other aspects of the school.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.