Westerly Town Hall
Westerly Town Hall

(This is an update of a story that ran earlier this morning, based on an email sent to parents this morning by School Superintendent Mark Garceau.)

Westerly school officials this morning informed parents that the high school employee accused last Friday of acting inappropriately with a high school student is no longer employed in the school system.

Additionally, Superintendent Mark Garceau said law enforcement is also investigating what he called “cyber-bullying/harassment of individuals tied to this situation.”

Garceau made the statements in an email sent to parents this morning as a follow-up to one he sent earlier this week. It also follows a barrage of social media posts that identified the student and alleged perpetrator, posted pictures, and included other defamatory information or misinformation.

This morning, Garceau said: “As an update to my email of earlier this week, I am writing to share that the staff member referenced then is (as of Tuesday of this week) no longer employed by the district. 

“This matter is still under investigation by the Westerly Police Department and any further information about that process or any potential actions against the individual will come from the WPD.

“In recent days, social media posts and other cyber-bullying/harassment of individuals tied to this situation has become a serious concern. This too is being investigated by the district and law enforcement and those involved will be subject to criminal charges where applicable.” 

Earlier this week, Garceau informed parents that Westerly police were investigating an incident where a high school employee was accused of acting inappropriately with a 16 or 17-year-old student last Friday. No charges have yet been filed.

Garceau had said the school employee is not a member of the Westerly Teachers Union and had not been back in school since the incident first came to light last week.

The incident has blown up on social media and with a local blogger. The name of the student and alleged perpetrator has been spread on social media, along with pictures of both and the alleged perpetrators’ family.

Garceau and Westerly High School Principal Michael Hobin pleaded in emails to parents to refrain from posting on social media. Despite those pleas, the conversation remained a prominent subject on social media, posted by students and adults.

Garceau told parents the school administration immediately contacted the local police and attorney general’s office. “Upon learning of this, the Westerly Police (WPD) and the Attorney General’s office were contacted and engaged,” Garceau wrote.

Garceau stressed that the matter involved issues of “student privacy, is a personnel issue, and is being actively investigated by local police and the Attorney General. Garceau asked the community to respect the student’s privacy and that this is a personnel issue. 

“The administration and our teaching staff place the safety of our students above all else,” Garceau wrote. “And while, again, we are limited in what can be shared, please know that this matter is receiving the full attention of the district and law enforcement.

I would ask that all members of our community bear in mind that this issue involves a student, a child; one who is deserving of a degree of consideration, compassion, and privacy.

Hobin sent an email to parents later. “ I write to you out of concern.  Of course, I am concerned about allegations of inappropriate actions of an adult. I have been working on this situation since it was brought to my attention on Friday, March 10, 2023. I am also concerned about rumors and misinformation shared via social media contributing to a potential false narrative.  Our investigation is ongoing and will continue until we, along with the Westerly Police Department, explore every aspect.”

“I am concerned that many students and adults have taken to social media to share memes, posts, doctored photographs, and other insensitive messages.  As Dr. Garceau shared, we ask that all members of our community bear in mind that this issue involves a student, a child; one who is deserving of a degree of consideration, compassion, and privacy.

Making inappropriate posts online may fall under the criminal offenses of cyber harassment under Rhode Island General Law.  I ask that you delete hateful and hurtful posts and show kindness to others during this challenging time.”

Some of those posts by adults in particular went far afield. They took at aim at teachers, trust in schools, banning books, sex education. And questioned whether anyone would actually do anything. Despite the efforts of Garceau and Hobin, the social media posts continued this morning. Here’s a small sample, not using anybody’s name:

  • Can we all give these families peace and let the authorities do there thing. Really ??
  • what’s their thing?
  • I’m guessing she isn’t aware of how many times the “authorities” esp schools do not do their “thing.” They quite often hide their thing
  •  LOL well isnt that “rich”…… you people literally have No Shame…

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.