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School abuse fears not reported

Aide transferred despite suspicion

LaShawn Hill pleaded not guilty yesterday to larceny in the theft of school computers. LaShawn Hill pleaded not guilty yesterday to larceny in the theft of school computers. (Chitose Suzuki/Pool/Boston Herald)
By James Vaznis and Martine Powers
Globe Staff / December 16, 2011
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Boston school officials said yesterday that the principal of the King K-8 School in Dorchester never alerted state authorities that a teacher’s aide may have had inappropriate contact with a student last spring.

Massachusetts law requires school employees to report suspicions of child abuse to the state Department of Children and Families, but that law may provide some leeway. According to an informational pamphlet produced by the agency, professionals should immediately report cases when they “have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 years is suffering from abuse and/or neglect.’’

Whether this case rises to that “reasonable cause’’ standard is the point of a review ordered by School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. She has asked her staff to determine whether the King principal followed proper protocols in investigating the concern and in deciding not to file a report to the state.

“The principal investigated, and met with parents and staff members and concluded there was not sufficient information for action to be taken,’’ said Johnson, who expects to have the review completed today.

The teacher’s aide, LaShawn Hill, subsequently transferred to Harbor Pilot Middle School, where he now stands accused of inappropriate conduct with a second student, who is autistic and unable to speak.

Johnson cautioned against hasty judgment against the King school principal. “I know the school leader cares about children and their well-being,’’ she said. “We want to make sure when we speak about this we are accurate.’’

In the allegations that surfaced Monday at the Harbor School, Johnson emphasized that the School Department took swift action, filing reports with both the police and the state. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Children and Families confirmed that it received a report about the Harbor incident and is investigating.

Hill’s involvement with children extends beyond his job in the Boston schools, where he makes roughly $23,000 a year. A state-licensed family day-care center, Because the lil’ Ones Count Too, operates out of his Dorchester home, according to the state Department of Early Education and Care.

In response to the allegations against Hill, the department, which licenses day-care programs, said it was opening an investigation into the center.

Hill, 33, who has been placed on administrative leave from the Harbor School and is facing termination, is expected to appear in court today after police issued a summons on a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct. Yesterday, he pleaded not guilty to five counts of larceny, accused of stealing laptop computers from the Harbor School.

The allegations of inappropriate conduct have sent “bone-chilling fear’’ throughout the tightknit community of parents of special-education students, said Rich Robison, executive director of the Federation for Children with Special Needs, based in Boston.

“This one strikes at the heart,’’ said Robison, adding that students with disabilities are more vulnerable to such abuse. “It’s one of the most dreaded fears of parents.’’

Hill has worked for the School Department for seven years, at about the same salary. He also worked at the Joseph Lee Elementary School and Lee Academy, which share a building in Dorchester.

The School Department, which is pursuing its own investigation into the two cases, sent letters home to families yesterday encouraging them to notify school officials of any other alleged improprieties. The mayor also has set up a hot line, 617-635-3050.

Details of the two cases remain vague. Hill’s transfer to the Harbor School came after his position at the King was eliminated amid a districtwide restructuring of special education programs.

Johnson stressed that school employees take all allegations of child abuse, negligence, and endangerment seriously. Since fall 2009, employees have reported more than 500 suspected cases of child abuse to the state Department of Youth and Families, she said. The reports encompass incidents in or out of school, including suspected cases in a child’s home.

After Hill’s not-guilty plea yesterday, a Dorchester District Court judge set his bail at $3,500 and ordered him to stay away from the Harbor School.

According to court documents, the school received 14 laptops Monday as part of a subsidy program called Technology Goes Home, in which low-income students who complete a computer literacy training workshop receive a laptop for $50. Hill was one of the administrators of the program.

On Tuesday, school officials reported that five of the laptops were missing. Police discovered that paperwork from parents signing out these computers had been forged. Officers found Hill at his mother’s house, where he allegedly told police he had taken the computers from the school.

State Police investigating a car accident on Morrissey Boulevard on Wednesday evening said they found the missing laptops inside one of the vehicles. The driver of the car, Nathaniel Thomas, declined to talk to police about the computers, but Hill’s sister-in-law, Nikki Ware, arrived at the scene and asked to retrieve the computers.

Police arrested Ware for driving with a suspended license. She then told police that she, Hill, Hill’s wife, and Thomas were all involved in a scheme to steal computers from the school program, according to court documents. Ware was released without bail yesterday.

Stephanie Soriano, who represented Hill and Ware in court, said that blame for the computer thefts should also lie with Hill’s wife, Lovella Young, and with Thomas.

In 2009, Hill was charged with assault and battery after he allegedly pushed his pregnant wife when she declined to help him carry groceries into the house. The case was dismissed.

A woman who answered the door last night at Hill’s home, a brick two-family home on Oldfields Street in Dorchester, declined to speak to the Globe.

Taped on the front windows and doorways were yellow signs reading: “We shall not be moved,’’ and in the same entranceway another sign reads: “Boston Public School Teacher Lives Here.’’

Meghan Irons and Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.

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