Against the present backdrop of dire finances, unsustainable facilities, and doubt as to the ability of Hartford to turn around its lowest performing schools, $176,000 District Executive Director of Compliance Eddie Genao allegedly sat next to a 13-year-old girl at a March 19 Bulkeley High School event (designed to combat institutional racism, no less) and later made inappropriate, illegal text-message contact with that minor who resides out of state.  He has now been arrested.  What makes this scandal even more of a scandal is the time it took for the Hartford Public Schools to respond to notice of a child being in danger.

The impact this scandal will have on the already low level of community trust in our schools remains to be seen.

Hartford Board of Education policy 5156, adopted in 1999 and updated in 2005, describes the District’s moral and legal obligation “to protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected though injury and neglect and to ensure a safe and nurturing environment”(here is the policy).  The District’s response to finding out about the inappropriate contact with a minor constitutes one question; another concerns District official Genao’s actions, now bound for the court of law.

Following the March 19 community conversation, Dr. Aaron Lewis of the Scribes Institute four days later contacted Hartford school officials, to report alleged inappropriate text-message contact with a 13-year-old attendee.  After he learned of and reported the alleged inappropriate contact with the child, Dr. Lewis complained, his communications with the District and Board drew no personal response.

The Courant’s article earlier this week detailed the situation; the joint announcement by Mayor Luke Bronin and Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez called for a review of Board policies and procedures related to the reporting of any information that a child may be at risk of harm; and the Courant editorial on the matter punctuated this April 10th Hartford Courant op-ed by HPS Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez.

In our conversations – consistent with our interest in accountability for school improvement – we spoke with and emailed Dr. Lewis, who maintained that neither he nor the parent involved in the March 19 incident received any personal responses from the District or Board.

“The only ones who reached out to me were the mayor and his chief of staff,” Dr. Lewis said.  ”The handling of the matter by the District and Board, in terms of responsiveness to those reporting the incident, indicates worrisome carelessness in dealing with urgent matters.”

Most everyone would agree with Dr. Lewis here, and indeed, HPS Chief of Staff Gislaine Ngounou issued an apology acknowledging fault in the matter.

Actions, or lack thereof, to safeguard the well-being of any child, to sanction a high-ranking administrator or to communicate with the family, beg the question of whether we as a city are leading from a place of fear and risk – or hope and accountability.

Speaking to parents this morning, following the morning TV news story of Genao’s arrest, they highlighted to us the notion that when there is bad news – even as horrific of this sort – all they want from their school district is to own it with full transparency, sincerely apologize for it, and let people know how it will not happen again.

That’s the only way trust can be gained, regained, and solidified.  And we will need it to procure all the help our city needs from parents, community leaders, philanthropy and business, both now and in the future.  Reviewing policy 5156 is just one step along the road to regain trust.