A state agency that reviews child abuse cases is investigating a teacher at the center of sexual misconduct complaints at Haverhill High School.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families said late last week that the agency has received a report about the Haverhill High situation and has begun an investigation.
News of that state probe comes after a group of residents calling themselves Time's Up Haverhill launched an online petition. The petition calls for the firing of the Haverhill High teacher, who was placed on leave last week, and an investigation into the situation.
Time's Up Haverhill said it emailed the petition to School Committee members on Wednesday of last week. Benjamin Roy, a spokesman for Time's Up Haverhill, was scheduled to present the petition to the School Committee last Thursday night during the public comment session of a remote online meeting. Roy was warned before his presentation by Committeeman Richard Rosa and Michele Randazzo, a lawyer working for the city, not to mention the name of any school employee in his remarks.
As he began his presentation, Roy identified himself as a member of Time's Up Haverhill. He started to read the group's petition, and then named the teacher who is the subject of both the state and school investigation. As soon as Roy spoke the name, breaking the rules he was warned about, he was muted from the meeting by the School Department technology team which directed the online meeting being broadcast live on local cable TV.
The Gazette is not publishing the name of the teacher mentioned at the meeting by Roy because no criminal charges had been brought against the teacher as of the newspaper's Tuesday deadline.
In addition to demanding the teacher be fired, the Time's Up Haverhill petition asks the School Department to take several steps, including: beginning an independent, third-party investigation into the history of the teacher's actions involving people connected to Haverhill High; releasing the teacher's personnel file to the public; and establishing a transparent system for people connected to the school to report any misconduct they are aware of.
As of last Thursday night, the petition had more than 260 signatures, according to a website that tracks the petition's progress.
Following Roy's appearance before the School Committee last Thursday night, Mayor James Fiorentini and Superintendent Margaret Marotta echoed a statement made by Haverhill High Principal Glenn Burns earlier in the week that the school has "zero tolerance for sexual misconduct.''
School officials said early last week that the staff member had been placed on leave. Since that time, current and former students of Haverhill High have used social media to identify themselves as having had uncomfortable interactions with the staff member in the past.
At the School Committee meeting, Marotta said the district has hired the law firm of Stoneman, Chandler and Miller to assist with an investigation into "allegations posted on Facebook and social media."
"Every allegation of any sexual misconduct or misbehavior of any type by our employees is taken very seriously," said Fiorentini, who is chairman of the School Committee. "The investigation will be a full, fair and impartial investigation.
"We should also take a look at our policies and our training to see if either needs to be updated or improved,'' he said. "If people have allegations or claims, they should contact the School Department. Everyone, including our teachers, are entitled to fairness and due process. No one should ever be disciplined and certainly not terminated based on information on social media or a petition. There is a process set forth by law. If we violate that process, the city may be subject to liability. We must follow the process."
Marotta said the investigation being conducted by the School Department will extend back several years.
"We are looking into what occurred prior to my administration as well," said Marotta, who has been Haverhill superintendent since 2018. "In the two years I've been here, there have not been any uninvestigated concerns or complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual communications between staff and students. We need a safe environment for our students, and any kind of sexual misconduct cannot be tolerated."