Plymouth educators ignored teacher abuse for years

PLYMOUTH — The four Plymouth educators charged with failing to report the alleged sexual abuse of fourth grade teacher James Eschert ignored his behavior for years, arrest warrants issued on Tuesday show.

Sherri Turner, 59, Crystal Collins, 59, Melissa Morelli, 45, and Rebecca Holleran, 48, were charged by warrant last week with failing to report child abuse, neglect or injury or the imminent risk of serious harm to a child. All four were released on a promise to appear in New Britain Superior Court on September 7 and 12.

“How could it have lasted so long? said a relative who spoke to police about Morelli’s role in covering up Eschert’s behavior. The woman made the observation during a December police interview that, “if this comes out now, you’re not going to tell me they were the first children” to be abused.

Morelli’s arrest warrant also states that the state Department of Education conducted an investigation of Eschert in regard to him giving standardized test answers to female students. There was not a single document in his employment file that indicated he was under scrutiny by state officials and there was no documentation of repeated complaints from parents. and students regarding his behavior, Morelli’s mandate said.

When the state Department of Children and Families was finally notified of Eschert, state officials concluded that instead of attempting to investigate themselves, administrators had done nothing. , depending on the mandate.

“It was as if they did not want to review and/or investigate the allegations regarding Mr. Eschert,” a DCF official told police.

A new principal at a separate college eventually reported the allegations against Eschert to the DCF in September 2021, police said. More than a dozen young female students have been identified as victims, Holleran’s arrest warrant said.

A child told police that Eschert touched her inappropriately. A DCF employee assigned to the case told investigators that new superintendent of schools Brian Falcone had “expressed his disgust that all of this could have been covered up”.

Falcone took over as superintendent in July 2021 and told police “it seems like this all predates his position and has been going on for years,” said a warrant charging Eschert with crimes against him.

Eschert, 51, was arrested in January on five counts of risk of bodily harm to a minor and two counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. His arrest warrant alleges that more than a dozen of his former Plymouth Center School students who were interviewed by police told investigators he would pull students on his knees, rub their shoulders to check if they wore bras and took pictures of their photos. skirts.

Eschert was furloughed Sept. 24, 2021. He resigned his position Nov. 9, 2021, Falcone said.

Parents and students told police they repeatedly raised their concerns with administrators and teachers, but nothing was ever done, Eschert’s arrest warrant said.

A separate lawsuit filed by one of his former students in June alleges teachers witnessed Eschert placing his hands in students’ clothes and other inappropriate behavior and that plaintiff ‘Jane Doe’ was abused sexually assaulted and sexually exploited during the school day.

As a result, the young woman’s ability to “enjoy her childhood, adolescence and adult years has been impaired”. The young woman, who was in Eschert’s fourth grade class in 2017, suffered “several emotional injuries” including emotional distress, low self-esteem, mistrust, anger, depression and “intrusive memories of the abuse” and may be forced to “spend amounts of money on psychological therapy and medical treatment in the future.

The lawsuit argues that the school system and its educators failed to properly monitor Eschert, investigate his activities, and fail to acknowledge that a member of their staff “had an unnatural interest in young girls.” .

The lawsuit, which was filed against the school board, the city, Eschert and Collins, states that as principal she should have “knew” that Eschert “was physically and socially inappropriate with the children of Plymouth Center School, including touching them inappropriately.”

Turner was a former principal at Plymouth Center School and Morelli was a math interventionist for the 2021-2002 school year. Turner was placed on leave on November 5, 2021, while Morelli was placed on leave on April 12, 2022, school officials said.

Holleran was the homeroom teacher and a math coach/interventionist for the 2021-22 school year, according to the student and parent handbook. She was furloughed Nov. 5, 2021, Falcone told Hearst Connecticut Media Group. Collins, former principal of Plymouth Center School, has retired.

Falcone said Plymouth Public School employees are required to report allegations of child abuse or neglect to the DCF for investigation.

“Failure to do so is inconsistent with the law and our district policies, and will not be tolerated,” he said. “As a school district, the safety and well-being of our students will always be our top priority, and we affirm our commitment to protecting our children and acting in their best interests.”

A girl told police she and another student went to see then-principal Turner “several times” about Eschert’s behavior, according to his arrest warrant.

“I told Ms. Turner,” a former student told police, according to Eschert’s arrest warrant. “He was touching us inappropriately and we want you to do something about it. But we said that every week and she did nothing about it. She just said, “We’ll work on it.” And she did nothing.

The girl’s mother said she also complained to Turner.

‘I personally complained to Ms Turner and she said, ‘Listen, I know I’ve heard rumours. I know the former manager was informed of this and did nothing about it. I will look into that. I am a new manager and I will investigate this,” the mother told police, according to the warrant.

The mother also told Turner that if the behavior persisted, she wanted her daughter to leave the class, the warrant said. Turner reportedly said she couldn’t get the students out of the classroom and would start looking into Eschert’s classroom, the warrant said. The student said Eschert’s conduct improved once Turner made surprise visits, according to the warrant.

Another mother told police that Morelli and an administrator at the time contacted her to speak to her daughter because “something had surfaced about Mr. E,” according to the warrant. With the mother seated next to her on a video call, her daughter told Morelli and the administrator that she had seen girls on Escher’s lap, according to the warrant. The mother told police that nothing happened after that conversation and the situation was glossed over, according to the warrant.

According to Eschert’s arrest warrant, Falcone told police he was concerned that Turner knew about the conduct and did not report it. Turner reportedly went to Falcone “to ask if anyone would file a breach of his report,” the warrant said.

Falcone took over as superintendent in July 2021 and told police “it seems like this all predates his position and has been going on for years.”

Writers Liz Hardaway and Caroline Tien contributed to this story.

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