Vt. principal who faced criminal charges wants clearer mandatory - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. principal who faced criminal charges wants clearer mandatory reporting law

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DANVILLE, Vt. - Noah Noyes has been in public education for nine years and says the safety of his students is paramount.

"I certainly am dedicated to child safety," he said. "That is my number one priority at all times."

But last year, the Danville High School principal's judgment was called into question. Police cited him for failing to properly file a report after a student claimed a teacher had fondled her in class. Noyes spoke with the district superintendent and an official from the Department for Children and Families, who all agreed the allegation was without merit.

"I was confident that I was fulfilling my duties under law," Noyes said.

The case-- which landed Noyes in court-- revolved around Title 33, the state's mandatory reporting law. It requires educators with a "reasonable" cause to believe a student has been abused or neglected to promptly file a report with the state.

Earlier this month, a judge cleared Noyes' boss, superintendent Martha Tucker, of the same charge. But Noyes had already agreed to a diversion program, which will wipe his record in a couple of years.

"It was an exit from a really difficult situation that allowed everybody to begin to move on," Noyes said.

But moving on has been a challenge. Noyes has applied for administrative roles at two schools, including Oxbow High School in Bradford. In both case, the districts decided to go in a different direction largely due to concerns from the public.

"Is it frustrating? Absolutely," Noyes said. "Do I feel like it has been detrimental to my career? Absolutely."

But now Noyes is trying to use the ordeal to affect change. He wants lawmakers to rewrite Vermont's reporting law, which he says has two significant flaws.

"Probably most importantly, it relies on the term reasonable which is an ambiguous term," Noyes said.

The other is outlining a better system between police, the Department for Children and Families, and schools, who Noyes says all have the same goal.

"The more coordination we have between those agencies, the better we are able to serve kids," Noyes said.

But Vermont's top educator disagrees.

"If in doubt, report. And that's how we make sure that our children and our teachers are safe," Rebecca Holcombe said.

Holcombe was recently appointed Vermont education secretary. While she says she is not too familiar with the Noyes case, she is familiar with the law, which she says leaves little room for interpretation.

"I think you turn it over, you hand it over to the authorities who are trained and who have the skills and the expertise to really investigate and determine whether there is merit. Not doing so may leave a child vulnerable and that's why we have reporting laws," Holcombe said.

If anything, Noyes wants the issue highlighted which, he says, will end up benefiting kids in the long run.

"I am hoping that it becomes part of a bigger conversation about child safety in Vermont, about role that schools and educators play in that process, and really help to clarify that for all of us," he said.

A principal who is using his unwanted time in the spotlight to change policy.

Noyes is stepping down as principal in Danville at the end of this school year. He says he is exploring options, which may include jobs outside public education.

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Vt. education secretary reminds of mandatory reporting

Lawyer argues case against school administrator should be tossed

Caledonia school officials fight charges

What's the burden on schools to protect Vt. kids from abuse?

Vt. school board backs charged principal

Caledonia school officials arrested for failure to report abuse

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