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August 20, 2004

School Policies Under Review

From: Hartford Courant, CT - Aug 20, 2004

Deaf Youth Alleged Sex Attack Victim


WEST HARTFORD -- The American School for the Deaf will review its policies after an alleged sexual assault on one student by another in a dorm room went unreported to police and child protection authorities for a month.

"We have begun a thorough review of our procedures to determine what areas may need to be modified," school Executive Director Harvey J. Corson, who is deaf, said through an interpreter. "Prior to this incident, plans were already in place to conduct annual training for direct service staff, which ... would be led by [the state Department of Children and Families]."

Corson's comments followed the school's failure to report an alleged sexual assault April 12. Administrators said they did not contact police because it was not reported to them as a sexual assault, and they believed the incident was "horseplay." They suspended a student involved in the incident, Joshua Tozeski, 16, for 10 days.

A month later, the mother of the 17-year-old alleged victim filed a complaint with West Hartford police, accusing Tozeski of pinning down her son and raping him.

In July, Tozeski was charged with first- and third-degree sexual assault. The arrest warrant says that the victim told police he reported the assault to school staff shortly after it occurred.

Corson said Friday that school officials notified DCF as soon as they learned of the police investigation.

"Originally, we found merit only to an allegation of student misconduct," he said. "Information provided to the West Hartford police by the family of the alleged victim [indicated the] more serious allegation now at issue in court had not previously been shared with the administration. As soon as we were informed by the ... police that a complaint had been filed ... we notified DCF the next day."

According to the warrant for Tozeski's arrest, school officials interviewed the victim and his roommate on April 26 and developed enough evidence to suspend Tozeski for 10 days. In those interviews, conducted by American School for the Deaf staff members Karen Jedson and Steve DesRoberts, the roommate said that Tozeski tried to touch the victim's genitals on April 12 and tried to force the victim's hand into Tozeski's pants and that the victim said "no."

The roommate said the victim and Tozeski then started struggling, "almost fighting," the warrant says. The victim then pushed Tozeski out of the room.

The roommate also told the staff members that earlier Tozeski had propositioned him for sex, but that he had said no. The roommate said he did not report Tozeski because he did not want rumors circulating about him.

State law requires the school to report allegations of abuse to police or DCF within 12 hours. Schools are not supposed to first conduct their own investigation, DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said.

Corson said the staff was aware of its responsibilities under the law. "The staff is trained on an annual basis on procedures and policies regarding all types of abuse. Included in this training is a review of the responsibility of the school to follow guidelines in reporting incidents of alleged abuse."

The school's handling of the alleged sexual assault has drawn the attention of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the state Department of Education, the state child advocate and DCF.

Kleeblatt said he could not discuss details of the case. He did say that agency investigators probably would examine conditions in the residential portion of the school.

"The issue for us would be whether the school, in this case the residential school, failed to provide proper supervision," Kleeblatt said.

Associate Child Advocate Mickey Kramer said her office has asked DCF and the state Department of Education to evaluate the school's compliance with regulations, especially in light of the suspicion that required notifications to police and DCF were not made.

"We found in many cases that staff don't fully understand their mandated reporting obligations," Kramer said. "Have they been trained in understanding what constitutes a suspicion of abuse or neglect? We'll look at that."

The American School for the Deaf is the nation's oldest school for the deaf and hard of hearing. The private, kindergarten through Grade 12 residential school is on 54 acres in West Hartford.

For members of the deaf community, the American School for the Deaf is more than just a school.

"A lot of deaf people have stronger emotional ties to their residential school than to their own families, especially if their moms and dads and siblings are hearing," said Paul Atkinson, an instructor specialist for the deaf and hard of hearing at Northwestern Connecticut Community College.

"The deaf community is a very tight-knit community, and they view their schools as centers for enculturation. ... For a lot of people, it's home."

Copyright © 2004 by The Hartford Courant