Investigation must be thorough and right

A year after revelations of sexual abuse at Brattleboro Union High School, the WSESU board has been criticized for the cost and length of the investigation as well as for lack of transparency

Given the shameful history of sexual abuse, coverups and retaliation in our society, it is perhaps understandable that there was a certain amount of distrust in how the Windham Southeast School district board would handle the allegations revealed in Mindy Haskins Rogers' report of sexual abuse, including statutory rape, at Brattleboro Union High School [“No more secrecy,” Viewpoint, Aug. 11, 2021].

Ms. Haskins Rogers noted that “The evidence seems damning, yet [Robert “Zeke” Hecker] was protected by supervisors, colleagues, and community members for decades, allowing him ongoing access to minors.”

The board was stunned by these allegations and took immediate action to ensure that claims of sexual assault - both long-past and more current - would be thoroughly investigated by an independent and impartial investigator.

More than once in public meetings, the chair and vice chair explained the board's commitment to a fair process and to the moral imperative for a thorough investigation that did not cut corners or rush to conclusions.

The investigation would seek information from anyone who had direct or indirect knowledge of sexual assault of students by anyone in the district.

In order to avoid even the appearance of bias and impropriety, the board established a legal firewall between itself and the attorneys conducting the investigation.

From our perspectives, the board's primary concerns from the start were justice for the victims and the safety and well-being of current and future students. This is still the case.

The board has also been cognizant of possible lawsuits that will likely be filed against the district and so, in order to protect the district from losing insurance coverage against such claims, it has followed the advice of attorneys and insurance experts to remain silent, even on what appear to be innocuous details of the investigation. For the good of the district and out of fiscal responsibility, the board has heeded this advice.

* * *

Recently, however, the board has been criticized by some for the cost and length of the investigation as well as for lack of transparency.

Regarding cost: Conducting a thorough investigation using utmost discretion is simply the smart thing to do to avoid even more costly lawsuits later on.

Regarding the length of the investigation: Justice cannot be rushed. We do not believe any board member wants to see the investigation drag on unnecessarily long, yet the allegations of sexual assault that rocked the district just over a year ago demand an exhaustive and thorough investigation that, for the sake of the victims, cannot be rushed.

Regarding transparency: It would be one thing if the board were covering up facts to protect the guilty, as “good old boys” have done for so long in our society, but this is not the case. If discussion of the investigation is not as open as members of the public would like, it is only because the board has little or no information to reveal, or because revelation of certain details of the investigation would be legally, fiscally, and ethically irresponsible.

* * *

Hopefully, the investigation will come to a conclusion in the near future, but at this time, we want to thank Mindy Haskins Rogers for her investigative journalism that compelled the board to take action.

Without her shocking revelation of sexual abuse at Brattleboro Union High School, we shudder to think how victims of abuse would still remain silenced, how cronyism and fear of retaliation would stifle reporting of violations, and how the climate in our schools would be less safe.

Strict rules of confidentiality restrict the board from knowing the names of victims and reporters of violations, but we want to thank them and all others who have had the courage and trust to come forward to report violations and contribute information that has been essential to the ongoing investigation.

Without their trust in the process and their belief in the district's commitment to significant and positive change, progress would be impossible.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates