Community Letter 01/03/20

Community Letter 01/03/20
Posted on 01/03/2020
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Dear Palisades Families and Community:


As all of you, I am upset, frustrated and angered by the actions of two former employees of the Palisades School District involving students. The arrests of Christian Willman and Francis Reppert are a violation of our values and our beliefs in the Palisades community. School personnel are held to a higher standard of behavior because we are entrusted with the education and welfare of our community’s children. When that trust is violated, the victims, their families, and all members of the community feel the effects.


When reports of educator misconduct emerge, the natural questions include what type of screening of potential employees occurs, how are these types of situations handled, and what can be done to prevent future instances? The remainder of this message will address these concerns.


As a district, we continually investigate new and innovative tools that human resource professionals are employing to better assess potential candidates.  In addition to interviewing and performing reference checks, we are using the following pre-employment screening tools prior to recommending a candidate to the School Board to be hired. They include the following: 


  1. Act 24 - Reporting Arrests and Convictions Form
  2. Act 34 - Pennsylvania Criminal Background Check
  3. Act 114 - FBI Fingerprint Criminal Background Check
  4. Act 151 - PA Child Abuse Clearance
  5. Act 168 - Commonwealth of PA Sexual Misconduct/Abuse Disclosure Release

In addition to the aforementioned criminal background checks, beginning in July 2019, all prospective employees are required to take a pre-employment drug test. 


Staff training is conducted on an ongoing basis.  Examples of recent district trainings related to keeping students safe include:


Student education addressing topics such as healthy relationships, sexting, and mental and physical abuse are covered in our Health and Wellness/Physical Education Curriculum, as well as in partnership with organizations like Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), A Woman’s Place, the PA Department of Health, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).


Regarding how allegations of educator misconduct are handled, if an allegation of misconduct emerges, the employee is placed on administrative leave pending an internal employee investigation. Concurrently, the local or state police as well as the Bucks County Children and Youth Agency are contacted to begin their own investigation to determine if a criminal act occurred. In addition, if it is a case involving a teacher, I also contact the Pennsylvania Department of Education so they can begin their investigation to determine if action will be taken regarding their teaching certification. The district cooperates with these agencies to provide assistance in the external investigation. 


These incidents are more than unacceptable, they are a call to action for us to continue talking with children about staying safe, reporting anything that seems out of line or potentially harmful, and continuing to work together to protect our children.  To that end, please keep in mind that Safe2Say, the program recently implemented by the Attorney General’s Office in Pennsylvania as part of Act 44, is a 24-hour hotline available to students and community members to report any malicious or insidious behavior which may threaten the safety of our students, staff or facilities.  Calls are acted upon quickly and proper actions are taken.  


As a district we will continue to screen potential employees, provide ongoing training and monitoring for employees and students, and partner with our local and state agencies to create safe learning environments for our students. 

Thank you for your continued support of our students and schools.


Sincerely,




Dr. Bridget O’Connell

Superintendent

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