More details emerge in arrest of SHS administrators

Rebecca Rakowitz and Paulomi Rao

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On October 2, 2014, the Stamford Police Department arrested Stamford High School Principal Donna Valentine and Assistant Principal Roth Nordin for failing to report an alleged sexual relationship between English Teacher Danielle Watkins and a student.

Both Valentine and Nordin are suspended from SHS until further investigation is completed by Police Chief Jon Fontneau and his department. According to the Stamford Police press release, both administrators were processed for Failure to Report and released from police custody on a written promise to appear in court. Failure to Report is classified as a Class A Misdemeanor; Connecticut Law requires school staff to report suspected abuse and neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) within 12 hours. A parent who wishes to remain anonymous said “educators are mandated reporters, and if there is no record of a report by Dr. Valentine then she demonstrated very poor judgement.”

According to court documents, at least five people – including a student, a teacher, a parent,  and a member of the school’s security team – had approached Valentine with concerns about the alleged relationship in the months leading up to Watkins’ arrest.

Valentine’s lawyer, Mark Sherman (SHS class of 1991 and former Editor-in-Chief of The Round Table) commented on the arrest, saying, “These are only accusations, and everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. These accusations must be measured against the prolonged success of her career as well as her commitment over those 15 years to the safety of her students.”

Since Valentine and Nordin are only charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, the maximum sentencing they could receive, if found guilty, is one year in jail, according to Sherman. He expects the case to be dismissed, though. If that were to happen, Sherman says there is a “strong possibility” that Dr. Valentine could return to Stamford High. That decision is made by The Board of Education, though, and not the court.

Sherman said that Dr. Valentine is “very appreciative of the support she is receiving from parents and students.” He added that she is “putting up face” and they are hoping that the case is dismissed.

A small group of students, none of whom were willing to speak on the record, claim to have known the arrest was going to happen for weeks. Conversely, some teachers, like physics teacher Kristine Amon, who found out this morning in the elevator at school, says she was “clueless” about what was going on.

Others, like Spanish teacher Matt Gladstone, responded with a confident tone. Gladstone said, “Stamford High is a place where students are highly valued, and the staff is devastated that people would think that we would ever do something that would endanger one of our students.” Gladstone thinks Valentine and Nordin “have a right to tell their story. We don’t have enough information and there’s too much speculation. It makes Stamford High look bad. Stamford High cares about their students. We want to do what’s right by kids, and what’s right by kids is to continue teaching – speculating is a disservice to the school,” said Gladstone.

Steven Labkoff, parent of an SHS senior, noted that “everyone is hyping this situation” and wondered “how can we jump to conclusions without all the evidence?” PTO/FOSH co-presidents Lynn Rule and Nora Taylor said “The recent news has been upsetting, however we continue to fully support SHS and are looking forward to a successful year for all our students.”

Not everyone is looking at the situation in such a positive light, though. Senior Ivan Li says this “comes as no surprise” due to the school’s history of controversy. Another student, who did not want their name used, also thinks that the two administrators should be charged with more than just a misdemeanor, saying that a misdemeanor is “what you get for stealing a pack of gum from a gas station.”

The incident has led many local and national news stations to investigate. Students were confronted at yesterday’s varsity football and volleyball games by the media, and they continue to attempt to contact anyone related to the school. Girls Varsity Basketball Coach and math teacher Diane Burns responded, “That’s not right; it’s ridiculous to bother students.” When asked if she thinks the situation will change, Burns said, “This is obviously an unprecedented event and the entire building will work together to pick up the slack of the two who are not here. [We will] stick together.” Burns also added, “Ninety percent of life isn’t what happens to you, but how you’ll react, and this building will react in a positive way.”

The Stamford Police Department, in partnership with the States Attorney’s Office, began investigating the failure to report allegations in August 2014 after Danielle Watkins was arrested in July. Investigated by the Stamford Police Department Juvenile Division, Watkins was arrested for her sexual involvement with an 18-year-old student and supplying both that student and another with marijuana.

Valentine and Nordin will appear in court on Wednesday, October 8, for their arraignment, at which their case could possibly be dismissed. Watkins is due to appear in court later this month to stand trial.

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