Connecticut school employees not required to report arrests
WESTPORT — The recent arrest of a Westport principal has shined a light on a potentially larger issue in the state — school employees not being required to report their arrests.
Coleytown Middle School Principal Kris Szabo was arrested Nov. 27 for allegedly striking a man following an argument in a parking lot in Southbury. She was not placed on administrative leave until Dec. 4, one day after her arrest was publicized.
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Interim Superintendent David Abbey, who learned about the incident through media reports, said while school policies are typically broad, there is no requirement for an administrator to report an arrest in Westport — or elsewhere in Connecticut.
“I’m not aware of any policies in other districts,” he added.
Human Resources Director John Bayers confirmed that a policy does not exist for the schools.
According to police, Szabo, 49, struck a 71-year-old man multiple times after he verbally confronted her for parking in a “no-parking” area. She was charged with second-degree breach of peace and released on $500 bond.
In state Superior Court in Waterbury, Szabo’s attorney John McDonald argued Wednesday that his client never struck the man. The case was continued to Monday when the charge could be dismissed.
Despite the Westport school district not finding out directly from Szabo, she — and other administrators — are not legally compelled to reveal an arrest. In fact, Connecticut law does not require notification of teacher or school employee arrests.
While almost all states require criminal background checks when hiring teachers, many do not have a formal procedure for when an existing teacher is arrested. According to a report by the state’s Office of Legislative Research, only 11 states require some form of teacher arrest notification — Arizona, California, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia.
Four states place the notification requirement on the arrested teacher, two require the police who make the arrest to notify, two require the courts or the prosecutor to notify, and four use a statewide search mechanism to identify arrests and make notifications.
In some states like Michigan, where policies are more strict, failure to self-report is a crime. States also vary on the cases that require a teacher to self-report, and may only require this for certain offenses such as felonies or child abuse.
However, Westport is not alone. In neighboring Fairfield County towns like Norwalk, Fairfield and Weston, there are no clearly defined policies that state schools staff must report arrests to their employers.
Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said whether to implement such a policy at a state level is something to be discussed, but incidents like the one in Westport are unusual.
“It seems like a rarity,” Duff said. “When a teacher is arrested, generally there should be local policies.”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he would need to consider the idea of a state policy further, but an arrest isn’t indicative of guilt, so any rules should allow districts to handle teacher arrests on a case-by-case basis.
“An arrest isn’t a conviction, so it’s dicey,” Steinberg said. “We entrust teachers with the critical responsibility of taking care of our kids. We should be familiar with any encounters they have that make us question their suitability.”
Lt. Anthony Prezioso, a spokesman for the Westport Police Department, said if a policy was enacted, law enforcement agencies could follow a similar process that they use for juvenile arrests.
“Juvenile law already mandates notification to the school district in which a child resides of his/her arrest, so in much the same way, I suppose an arrest of an educator could also be reported by police if such a requirement was put in place,” Prezioso said.
Vincent Mustaro, a senior staff associate for policy at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said while there is a stringent application process where educators report prior arrests, he was not aware of a policy for existing staff to report if they’re arrested.
“It probably begs the question if it’s appropriate for a new applicant perhaps we need to go a step foward and require the same for existing staff,” Mustaro said. “... I think there is a professional responsibility to notify the town you are working in that there are criminal charges pending.”
While there is no statewide law, Mustaro said districts are not necessarily precluded from establishing such a policy.
“Through policy a board is indiciating what it wants to see happen,” he said. “There’s nothing that would preclude a board from putting together such a policy as long as the language they put together does not violate any existing statutes.”
Westport Board of Education Chairwoman Candice Savin declined to comment on the matter.
Staff writer Erin Kayata contributed to this story.