Superintendent’s Charges Dropped
St. Johnsbury, Vt. — Caledonia Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Martha Tucker is no longer facing criminal charges.
Judge Robert Bent dismissed misdemeanor charges against Tucker for neglect of duty by a public officer and failure to report an allegation of child abuse, following a two-hour hearing in Caledonia Superior Court Tuesday.
The charges had been pending against Tucker, 58, since last summer when she and Danville School Principal Noah Noyes, 30, were both accused of failing to report an allegation that a teacher grabbed a female student’s buttocks to the Department of Children and Families within 24 hours.
Tucker, through her attorney Pietro Lynn of Burlington, asked the court to dismiss the charges, saying under the state’s “mandatory reporter” law, Tucker was only mandated to report the allegation to DCF if she had “reasonable cause” to believe the allegation.
On Tuesday, the judge found that there wasn’t enough evidence to trigger Tucker’s responsibilities under the mandatory reporter law.
“The judg ment at the time was that it (the allegation) was probably not true,” said Lynn.
Lynn was aided in his argument by Tucker’s former co-defendant, Noyes, who testified under subpoena for the state about his conversation with Tucker on the day the abuse allegation was brought to his attention.
Noyes settled the charges against him through a diversion program. According to Deputy Caledonia County State’s Attorney Maria Byford, Noyes has completed his diversion requirements and testified with immunity.
Noyes, who is a candidate to become principal at Oxbow Union High School, first said he and Tucker discussed how to handle the student’s complaint about the teacher. He said that they agreed it would be investigated as a harassment claim and not as child abuse.
“We discussed a plan of action moving forward,” said Noyes. “It fell under the category of harassment.”
But when Byford pressed Noyes for more information about the conversation, including what they discussed and what Tucker knew about the student’s allegation, Noyes repeatedly said he couldn’t remember.
“I don’t remember the conversation,” said Noyes. “I remember that we talked, but I don’t remember the specifics of our conversation. I don’t recall any specific conversation about reporting and not reporting.”
Lynn seized on Noyes’s testimony in his final remarks.
“There has been an almost complete absence about what she (Tucker) was told,” said Lynn.
Noyes did not want to testify and took legal steps prior to the hearing to get out of it by filing a motion to quash the subpoena. Bent denied the request.
“The law allows for the testimony of every man,” said Bent. “That’s how we have to proceed.”
Lynn had also tried to argue that Tucker was charged due to a “personal animus” against her by Vermont State Police Detective Lyle Decker. But Bent wasn’t buying it.
“The court finds no animus on the part of Trooper Decker,” said Bent.
Byford, who inherited the case when former Caledonia County Deputy State’s Attorney Ben Luna left the prosecutor’s office to take another job, said the statute was not clear on exactly what “reasonable cause” was.
“Because the Legislature hasn’t defined it, we’re all grappling with it,” said Byford.
Noyes and Tucker were both charged by state police in July of 2013. Both pleaded not guilty to the charges in August. Both have announced they are leaving their Danville jobs at the end of this school year. The Danville teacher implicated in the underlying complaint has not been charged with a crime.
In an email Wednesday, Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Beth Cobb said the Oxbow School Board has not had any additional meetings since a public forum last week to discuss Noyes’ candidacy. Because two teachers in Bradford have been convicted of sex crimes in recent years involving students, several parents at the forum raised concerns about the suitability of hiring Noyes for the principal’s job.
“I am hoping that a decision in regards to next steps will be made” during tonight’s School Board meeting, she said.
Cobb said she “thinks this information (from Tuesday’s court hearing) adds to (the board’s) decision making,” but added that there are “so many other factors that go into this decision besides what happened with this incident.”
“Hiring a principal is such an important decision,” Cobb said. “The board has to consider all aspects for the good of the students. It isn’t easy.”
Valley News staff writer Maggie Cassidy contributed to this report.