BENNINGTON -- At least one school employee whose voice was captured on a secret audio recording set up by the family of an autistic child has been placed on administrative leave until a school investigation that began Friday is complete.
Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Catherine McClure said neither Laurie Connell nor Clayton Buck will be in the school until the investigation is final. Connell, a paraprofessional, has been placed on administrative leave. Buck has not been placed on leave because, McClure said, he is a substitute paraprofessional and substitutes only work when they are called to come in.
Both are at the center of an investigation into comments and actions made Feb. 13 while they were assigned to work with Nathan Reilly, an 8-year-old boy with autism. That morning, after hearing how Nathan acts much worse at school than at home, Jean Pinsonneault attached an audio recorder to her nephew’s backpack.
The recorder picked up audio that shocked Pinsonneault and Nathan’s mother, Joan Reilly. The captured audio included Nathan being told to clean his urine off the floor, Nathan being referred to as a "dumbass kid with autism," and a conversation in which it was stated Nathan can go 10 days without eating and three without drinking before it affects him.
"We’re investigating, very seriously, all of this," McClure said of the recording that is more than nine hours long. "Safety is our first concern in the district for all students and all employees."
The Bennington School District board released a statement Friday saying it is concerned about the allegations and reminding everybody that the allegations are not representative of the school population. The statement in its entirety reads:
"Certainly we as members of the Bennington School Board are very concerned about the allegations in (Thursday’s) Banner. The superintendent of schools is aware of the allegations and has initiated an inquiry into this matter. Confidentiality is not only extremely important in such a situation but required by law. The superintendent’s and board’s obligation is to students, parents, the community, and our staff as well as the staff employed by the SVSU who work in our schools. We are confident that this matter is being handled with urgency, thoroughness, and fairness. While the allegations are serious and necessitate an inquiry, the board is confident that the allegations are not representative of the hardworking, professional, caring, and dedicated staff of the BSD schools and the SVSU employees who work in our schools."
McClure said the purpose of placing an individual on administrative leave is not punishment, but a way to protect their rights while the investigation is done.
"When people are put on administrative leave it is to help them with their due process as well. It’s not a disciplinary action at that point," McClure said. "It’s really to help protect them and the students and families. (It is a) safety net for everybody until we find out what the truth is."
McClure spoke with staff at Bennington Elementary Thursday after receiving a copy of the recording the prior evening to prepare them for an anticipated article in the Banner that was published Friday. On Friday, McClure spoke with staff at the other two elementary schools in Bennington to field questions and ask employees not to discuss the matter for reasons of confidentiality.
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