Teachers and principals are mandated reporters. Like anyone that works with children in Connecticut, they must report child abuse, real or suspected. They have no choice but to report what they hear. Failure will cost them their career.
James Eschert taught the Fourth Grade at Plymouth Central School. For many years he abused female students. He pulled girls onto his lap and rubbed their shoulders to check for a bra. He took pictures up their skirt. He handed out gifts.
His personnel file at Central showed no sign of this. It did indicate that he had earned stipends for his coaching and plaudits for his perfect attendance. It also contained one letter: a parent wrote that the family decided not to move because the children liked Eschert so much as a teacher.
Central’s principal, Crystal Collins, knew enough to suspect abuse. Students had told her about Eschert. The law on mandated reporters told her exactly what to do. Within twelve hours she had to tell either the Department of Children and Families or the police. She could not wait for proof. She could not look into it on her own. As long as she acted in good faith and for good reason, the law would shield her from liability.
Collins never told DCF or the police. Instead, she enlisted three other officials to help cover up Eschert’s abuse. The four told parents that stories about the Eschert’s behavior were a “misunderstanding.”
In 2021 a new principal took over at Central. In the first month of school a student told him about Eschert’s behavior. They told him that Collins and the others knew about it.
The new principal told DCF and his superintendent the day after he heard about Eschert. DCF opened an investigation and notified the Plymouth police. The police opened a criminal investigation into both the teacher and the four officials.
In November 2021 Eschert resigned. Two months later the police arrested him for sexual abuse. In August they arrested Collins and the others for failing to report Eschert’s abuse
DCF’s investigators notified the superintendent that they had found abuse. Within three days he asked the Department of Education to revoke Eschert’s certification. By law he also had to ask the Department to revoke the officials’ certification as well. For some reason he never acknowledged that he did. In any event, in 2022 the Department announced that it was looking into the question.
No Room For Judgment
To do their job well, teachers and principals must use discretion. But in this area, they cannot think twice. The law does not allow it. The risk to children is too great.