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Parents Protest Pick for Principal

Bradford Vt. — At a packed meeting in the Oxbow High School auditorium Wednesday night, parents questioned why school district officials would consider hiring a principal embroiled in a controversy regarding failure to report child abuse, given two recent convictions of former school employees in Bradford, Vt., for assaulting students.

The School Board scheduled the forum in response to concerns as officials took steps toward hiring Noah Noyes, who spoke and answered questions.

Noyes, 30, currently the principal in Danville, Vt., was charged by State Police last year with failure to report an allegation of child abuse after a student at the school claimed that a teacher touched her inappropriately.

The student’s claims ultimately were found to be without merit, and the criminal charge against Noyes’ case was referred to diversion, but that meant little to many of the parents in attendance Wednesday.

Per the format set by school officials, attendees wrote down their questions for Noyes on pieces of paper, and they were read aloud by Oxbow School Board member Dan Smith during the lively one-hour session.

“After what two teachers have done ... to two students, how are we to trust you to protect our students?” one question asked.

“My daughter was assaulted by a student (at a different school) last summer. How do I know she will be safe with you at this school?” asked another.

“As a candidate, you researched this school and were aware of the history,” another person wrote. “... Why do you continue the process?”

As the forum came to a close, parent Brian Reger exited, shouting over his shoulder, “We’re not buying what you’re selling.”

“I just feel like they’re rubbing our face in it,” Reger said in an interview afterward, referring to the child abuse problems. “It’s insane. ... I don’t know what they’re even thinking.”

Noyes, who announced last month that he would leave Danville School at the end of the school year, said in an interview afterward that he understood the parents’ sentiments, but he still wants to be considered for the post.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to share some information with them, and I certainly understand that they’re working through an emotional and difficult situation … and I appreciate that my candidacy is a factor in that,” he said. “I certainly wish the Oxbow community the best of luck regardless of the hiring decision.”

During the forum, Noyes said that he now has a clear understanding of Vermont’s mandatory reporting laws, which require certain people, including school officials, to report allegations of child abuse to the Department for Children and Families within 24 hours.

Noyes said he reached out to an acquaintance at the Department of Children and Families when the student first made the allegation. That individual, along with other Danville School officials and legal counsel, agreed that the claim did not necessitate a report to authorities, Noyes said, in part because there was a “substantial” amount of evidence that it was untrue.

The allegation was later reported by the girl’s parents, which led to the charges against Noyes and his school district’s superintendent.

Since then, Noyes said, he reports all allegations of child abuse, no matter the circumstance or the perceived credibility of the claim.

“Any time there’s anything related to child safety, it’s an automatic report ... to make sure we’re erring on the complete side of caution,” he said.

Noyes said he was placed in a court-ordered diversion program, and that the charges would be expunged. In an interview, he said he could not acknowledge that his case was sent to diversion in previous interviews because he did not yet have approval from legal counsel to do so.

Several people Wednesday night referenced the conviction last week of former Oxbow High School coach and physical education teacher Brian Musty, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a student-athlete who was staying at his home in the late 1990s.

When he was first charged in November 2012, investigators alleged that some of the assaults occurred inside the high school.

Musty remains free on conditions pending his sentencing, which is yet to be scheduled. A proposed plea deal calls for a months-long prison sentence and lifelong probation.

They also referenced Bradford Elementary School teacher Richard Foster, who was convicted in 2009 of producing child pornography involving two students. Foster died in prison while serving a 25-year sentence.

Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Beth Cobb said after the forum that the board would be reviewing parent feedback concerning Noyes.

Although Noyes is the lone finalist for the Oxbow High job, school officials said they have not yet decided to hire him, and could potentially hire an interim or reopen the search.

Cobb said she expected the board would determine a course of action by next week’s School Board meeting, which is on Thursday.

Several people who spoke Wednesday said they felt that Noyes was probably a capable school administrator, but suggested this was the wrong time for the School Board to try to bring in somebody with his professional history.

Others accused Noyes and school administrators of being coy or untruthful during an earlier public question-and-answer session, when the School Board brought two candidates before the school community for meet-and-greets. Noyes said he didn’t bring up the controversy during that time because he had already talked about it previously with the hiring committee and other administrators.

“So a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, huh?” one person yelled out from the crowd, setting off a round of similar taunts.

Not all who spoke Wednesday spoke against Noyes, who received positive references from the Danville School Board.

Scott Labun, of Newbury, Vt., who served as a principal decades ago, said that when he read about Noyes’ candidacy in the media, he was sympathetic to Noyes but unsure of what he had learned from the controversy.

Noyes’ performance Wednesday night changed that, Labun said.

“It seemed like a uniquely imperfect fit, given our recent history, but he’s impressed me tonight, and I feel a whole lot better at the end of the evening than I did at the beginning,” Labun said.

Similarly, when one parent suggested that the School Board should consider that students are probably scared “straight to death” by the prospect of Noyes as principal, the parent was cut off by Caleigh Peterson, an Oxbow junior, who said many students enjoyed meeting with Noyes during the community meet-and-greet and supported his candidacy.

The child abuse convictions and Noyes’ failure to report were “not even remotely the same,” she said to applause.

When questioned about his decision to leave Danville School, Noyes said the school is moving toward consolidating its two principal positions — one for pre-K through grade 6, and Noyes’ position, which is for grades 7-12 — into one post.

Noyes said he would prefer to continue focusing on secondary education and that his wife, who works for the Department for Children and Families, has job prospects in the Upper Valley.

Reger, the parent, said he plans to picket outside of the school this morning, protesting not only the possibility of Noyes as a principal and the School Board’s process in trying to hire him, but also the school atmosphere in general. He said he may be joined by other parents.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

CORRECTION

The late Richard Foster taught at Bradford Elementary School, which along with Oxbow High School is part of the Orange East Supervisory Union. An earlier version of this story imprecisely described where Foster, who died in prison while serving a sentence for child pornography involving two students, had been employed.