WSESD sexual abuse investigation may be 'moving into next phase'

But the school board, citing legal advice, isn't saying what that phase might be or how long that might take

BRATTLEBORO — The Windham Southeast School District's sexual abuse investigation is in process of “moving […] into the next phase,” School Board Chair Kelly Young told participants on March 20.

Young did not, however, explain what that means. Or when it might happen.

Noting the investigation remains ongoing, Young said attorney Aimee Goddard of Annis & Goddard/Southern Vermont Law, “continues to gather information and interview individuals” and is “in process of moving the investigation into the next phase” and, “at some point, come to some completion.”

Since the investigation was started about a year ago, several people, including Brattleboro High School alum Mindy Haskins Rogers, who broke the story of a history and culture of sexual abuse in the district in her 2021 essay in The Commons, have asked for information at meetings.

Those requests included asking for metadata, such as how many people have reported abuse to Goddard and how many former/current educators have been named in those reports.

On March 9, Haskins Rogers sent a list of additional questions to Young and the board, including what burden of proof is being applied by Goddard to reports to consider them corroborated - “proof beyond a reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence, or a preponderance of evidence?”

She also asked what specific steps are being taken to investigate each report and whether potential witnesses who are named to Goddard are being contacted.

At the Feb. 28 board meeting, Haskins Rogers had been invited to submit questions, as had student board representative Ben Berg.

This week, Young said she'd sent all questions to the board's attorney, which is Pietro Lynn of Lynn, Lynn, Blackman & Manitsky, PC in Burlington, and they were then forwarded to Goddard.

Young said she appreciates the public's “patience and understanding that the process takes time,” then said she “can't say more.”

Haskins Rogers said the burden of proof question is “pretty important for understanding the process,” noting that Goddard is a criminal defense lawyer with a case recently making headlines.

Burden of proof would not be held to a criminal level for any of the potential civil suits under consideration in the WSESD, Haskins Rogers said.

The burden of proof in civil litigation is lower than that in criminal prosecution. Instead of proving a case “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a rape or sexual assault survivor's case must show that, more likely than not, the assault occurred.

“It's concerning to me that hasn't been clarified along the way,” Haskins Rogers said, adding that survivors “deserve to be believed” and understanding what standard of burden of proof Goddard is holding those reporting to is key.

Haskins Rogers also said she thought her questions had been submitted with a lot of lead time and clarity, but Young said she was without power post-storm for 2.5 days, limiting what she could do.

“I think there are some detrimental things in the messaging that call into question how reliable this investigation might be,” Haskins Rogers said, asking why a criminal defense lawyer was hired to pursue the investigation in the first place.

“I'm not familiar with her other clients, and I don't think it's really appropriate for anyone on the board to comment on them because she is an attorney and I'm sure she represents lots of people,” Young said, adding “my recollection is she had experience in these matters.”

Board member Tim Maciel then said this was an executive session matter at the time of hiring and couldn't be discussed now in open meeting.

Young continued for a moment, however, likening the process to “hiring a contractor,” when one looks at experience and determines a choice. She said the board did so in selecting Goddard, “based on her experience and skills that she would be able to do that job that the board hired her to do.”

Young noted three newly elected board members will start with the next board meeting, and she reiterated what she said at the beginning of the meeting.

“I would foresee we would be moving on to the next phase in the investigation, and I'm not sure what that would entail,” Young said.

Berg then asked for clarification.

“You're saying you can't speak to any of the findings, an overview of the progress, process, or possible next steps?” he said.

“Correct,” Young replied.

“And that's for legal reasons?” asked Berg.

“Yes,” said Young.

“Why?” Berg asked.

“The investigation is ongoing and there are certain things we can talk about [and] others we can't,” Young said before moving on to another topic. “That's the legal advice we've paid for.”

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