State DCF Investigating Another Haverhill Child Restraint; Officials Not Told For a Week

Jake Robinson, now head custodian at Consentino School, came to the defense of Principal John DePolo at the April 11 meeting of the Haverhill School Committee. Robinson said DePolo spent $300 of his own money to buy him clothes and shoes when he was a student. (WHAV News file photograph.)

A state agency is investigating an April 12 child restraint issue at St. James School that, at least for a week, did not come with any district-ordered suspensions—seemingly contradicting newly articulated school policy.

The incident—the second in a month—was confirmed for WHAV Friday by a spokeswoman for the state Department of Children and Families. The agency, whose role is “to keep children safe from abuse and neglect,” also reported it has not yet completed its investigation of a March 29 incident that saw the school principal and four others placed on paid leave. On Saturday morning, following WHAV’s inquiries, school Superintendent Margaret Marotta notified the School Committee by email.

“These staff members will be placed on paid leave—as this has been the consistent practice across the school year,” Marotta wrote, offering no explanation for the week-long delay.

The latest incident, according to those with knowledge of it, involved a student who “punched (Assistant Special Education Director John) DeManche in the face and hit him with a chair.” The student was then was restrained by DeManche and a temporary staff member. It is not clear who filed the report with the state or when.

DeManche and temp staff have been in place since Haverhill Alternative School Principal John DePolo was placed on paid leave immediately after the March 29 episode, followed several days later by four staffers who came to his defense. In that case, according to a 15-year staff member, a student “repeatedly kicked and punched staff and head butted two staff.”

At the last School Committee meeting, most speakers came to DePolo’s defense or criticized changes in the special education programs. DePolo, an 18-year-veteran of the school, had overseen both the Haverhill Alternative School and the Therapeutic Education Assessment Center of Haverhill until the beginning of the school year. He was replaced at TEACH by Lyn A. Snow. He was also suspended three weeks last fall for a similar incident for which he was eventually cleared. The collection of events caused some to speculate DePolo is being targeted by the new administration.

Marotta told School Committee members the paid suspensions are routine and do not necessarily suggest wrongdoing on the part of staff.

“It is not a condemnation of the people. It is simply the fact that we have an obligation to look into it and these agencies have to look into it,” she said.

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