Summary of Veracka investigation released

| April 8, 2020

PLEASE NOTE: The School Committee will be accepting questions and comments from residents through 5pm TODAY – Wed. April 8. Residents will not be able to participate live in the ZOOM conference app. Please see the bottom paragraphs for more information.

April 8, 2020

By Natasha Don
On November 26, 2019 Attorney Tim Norris of Norris, Murray & Peloquin, LLC was appointed by the NRSD School Committee to investigate the response of the District administration to reports of events that ultimately led to the arrest and conviction of former Nashoba teacher Dorothy Veracka. On Friday, Norris’s report of his findings was made available to the public.

Through interviews with 21 individuals connected to the investigation, as well as review of several documents and policies, Attorney Norris analyzed the timeline of events and the conduct of specific faculty members in relation to information they received involving inappropriate contact between Dorothy Veracka and former minor-aged students.

The central question of the investigation was whether NRHS Principal Paul DiDomenico and Superintendent Brooke Clenchy were aware in June 2019 of reports of nude photographs being exchanged between Veracka and Nashoba High students and, if they were, how they responded. The answers lead to whether Clenchy or DiDomenico conducted themselves in accordance with school policy and Massachusetts mandatory reporting laws.

Norris’s investigation determined that on June 18, 2019, DiDomenico was contacted by a Nashoba parent with concerns regarding rumors of exchanged nude photos and sexual contact between Dorothy Veracka and her students. On this same day, Superintendent Clenchy left on vacation. When Clenchy returned on June 28, HR Manager Ann Marie Stoica informed her that DiDomenico had learned that Dorothy Veracka had been giving rides home to intoxicated students at parties. According to Clenchy and Stoica, the superintendent was not made aware of the nude photos accusation.

At this point, Clenchy expressed anger at the news of the car rides, and felt that Veracka should be disciplined for this behavior, but to her recollection and the recollection of others involved there was no further discussion concerning Veracka throughout the various school-related conversations that took place over the summer among Clenchy, DiDomenico, Stoica, and NRSD legal counsel Michael Maccaro. Norris’s investigation determined that Clenchy was not made aware of the nude photos and sexual misconduct accusations until police informed her in September of that year.

Attorney Norris had this to say in his report: “The bottom line with regard to Superintendent Clenchy’s knowledge of nude photographs being exchanged between Veracka and Student B is that she did not know of this until September 27 when the police informed her. This is based upon Superintendent Clenchy’s own account, corroboration from other witnesses, and a lack of contrary evidence.”

According to Attorney Norris his investigation was able to corroborate that Principal DiDomenico was in fact contacted by a concerned parent on June 18, 2019. This parent, referred to in the report as ‘Parent A’ stated to DiDomenico that at a recent party attended by his/her child (Student A) nude pictures of Dorothy Veracka had been circulating. Other students present at the party were referred to as Student B and Student C.

Norris wrote in his report: “After speaking with Parent A, Mr. DiDomenico asked to speak with Student A. On Friday, June 21, 2019, Student A spoke by phone with Mr. DiDomenico and related the information about the nude photos shown by Student B and the ride received by Student C. Student A provided Mr. DiDomenico with the names of Student B, Student C, and the names of other students who were present when Student B showed the nude photos to Student A. Based on questioning by Mr. DiDomenico, Student A told Mr. DiDomenico that there were rumors about Veracka having relationships with students, and that it was common knowledge among students for years that Veracka offered to give rides to students if they were unable to drive due to drinking.”

From there DiDomenico attempted to contact Student B and Student C by phone and by email. These initial attempts did not yield meetings or conversations. “Mr. DiDomenico did not follow up with Student B or Student C and he did not attempt to contact the other students named by Student A,” Norris wrote. At this point HR Manager Ann Marie Stoica had been kept apprised of all DiDomenico’s actions.

Norris’s reported, “Ms. Stoica asked if there was anything further Mr. DiDomenico could do to find out more about the pictures, and he said no. Mr. DiDomenico expressed his belief that the graduated students had moved on and all they had was a secondhand account of someone seeing a “faceless” picture. He told Ms. Stoica he had done all he could do to investigate the pictures, and it was a dead end.”

A pre-disciplinary interview was conducted with Dorothy Veracka where DiDomenico questioned her about the accusations regarding the nude photos and the car rides. In this interview, Veracka admitted to giving students car rides as part of a “crusade to keep kids from driving drunk.” She denied any knowledge of or involvement in the nude photos and theorized that students may have seen “beach pictures” on her personal phone while she was driving them home.

Norris noted that Veracka was not asked specifically about Student B or Student C, and she was not asked to name students she had given rides to so that they could have been contacted for corroboration. “Mr. DiDomenico and Ms. Stoica accepted Veracka’s version of events and shifted their focus to determining what discipline might be appropriate for the offense to which she admitted: giving rides home to graduated students who may have been drinking at parties,” wrote Norris.

Following this interview, on June 28, 2019 DiDomenico left on vacation and did not return until July 8. By this time Superintendent Clenchy was made aware of Veracka giving rides to students. No further discussion was had and no further action was taken regarding the nude photos allegation until Parent A, upset to learn that Veracka was still employed at Nashoba, decided to file a police report on September 20, 2019.

“Mr. DiDomenico’s investigation was inadequate in many respects,” reported Norris. “The evidence does not suggest any malice on his part or any attempt to cover-up known misconduct. Mr. DiDomenico inadvertently shielded himself from knowledge of serious misconduct by failing to conduct and document a competent investigation.” Essentially, DiDomenico’s failure to keep a thorough written record of his awareness of the Veracka allegations and his actions surrounding them made it impossible to determine conclusively whether he knowingly mishandled the situation.

Norris added in the conclusion section of his report: “The High School Principal was told about nude photos in June 2019. The implication that the Principal knew of the photos at that time is not true, as his investigation failed to substantiate what he was told. The reason the report was not substantiated was because the Principal conducted a deficient investigation. The Principal’s failure to follow up on obvious leads deprived him of the knowledge that was discovered months later by the police. The Principal’s failure to document the investigation deprived the District of a second chance to revisit the matter and ensure that a proper investigation was completed.”

In his report Norris cited several apparent instances of faculty not fully understanding school policy surrounding reporting responsibilities. He recommended “consistent training for administrators and the development of sensible protocols for conducting and documenting investigations would go far to reduce the opportunities for a repeat of this type of concern in the future.”

In terms of disciplinary action, Norris cedes that the responsibility lies with the School Committee to determine whether Superintendent Clenchy engaged in any misconduct. If they decide that she has not, then Norris recommends any other disciplinary action be handed off to Clenchy to administer.

In a statement released by the School Committee on April 3, it was declared that the Committee unanimously accepts the investigative findings of Attorney Norris, and that these findings do not indicate Superintendent Clenchy in any misconduct. The statement also expresses the Committee’s decision to share the report with its lawyer, Michael Maccaro so that he may advise the District on necessary next steps.

The upcoming April 8 School Committee Meeting will discuss the investigation’s findings and address public concerns. The meeting will once again take place over the Zoom application and Attorney Norris will be present to answer questions and provide clarification.

On this meeting’s agenda, the Committee writes: “In response to concerns about the potential for privacy and safety violations embedded in Zoom, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) has shared preliminary guidance for conducting meetings and online learning. Recommendations include sending the link only to those participating in the meeting (committee members, superintendent, presenters) and requiring a password. Other recommendations include having the local cable channel livestream or otherwise broadcast the meeting to make it accessible to the public, and either taking public comments off the agenda or asking that comments be emailed to the Chair who can read them at the meeting. While public comment is not a requirement of the Open Meeting Law, our school committee wants to continue to include it as part of our agenda. The best way to accommodate this, while we hold our meetings using Zoom, is to ask those wishing to make a comment to email them to the Chair who will read them during the Citizens Comments portion of the agenda. To view the meeting in real time, click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8uM_oD6GuI

“Please submit citizens comments in writing by Wednesday, April 8th at 5:00 pm to the NRSC Chair at kcodianne@nrsd.net comments will be read during the Citizens Comments section of the meeting. Please be sure to include your full name and the town in which you reside.”

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