Resident calls for fewer barriers, more transparency

Despite missing the public comment portion of the Board of Education’s special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 28, by a few minutes, Marianne Gustafson was permitted to voice her concerns about what’s been going on in the school system.

“Both my children have graduated. The school system had been very good with both of them,” said Ms. Gustafson, of Fox Run, and a town resident of 18 years.

“We appreciate that there’s a sense of community and we work together. The way we approach things; the way we look at things.”

Ms. Gustafson said although her two children are no longer in the school system, she supports access to opportunities, fairness and great education to all Wilton’s students.

“I thank all of you for what you do, but there are some things that are heavy on my mind — my heart and my mind — about the things in the last year or so,” Ms. Gustafson told the education board.

Paraprofessional arrest

Ms. Gustafson cautioned board members and asked them to be careful about the way in which it addresses the recent arrest of former Miller-Driscoll paraprofessional Eric Von Kohorn.

State police arrested Mr. Von Kohorn, of Bridgeport, on Wednesday, Aug. 20, for first-degree possession of child pornography and promoting a minor in an obscene performance.

Mr. Von Kohorn has not been at Miller-Driscoll since June 11, when police alerted Wilton Public Schools to the investigation. On June 16, Mr. Von Kohorn resigned his position and has not had contact with the district since that time.

In a letter issued to Wilton parents on Thursday, Aug. 21, Superintendent Kevin Smith said there had been no information from state police indicating that Mr. Von Kohorn was inappropriate with Wilton children.

“No statement should be made that there is no evidence or no claims that nothing has happened to any children,” Ms. Gustafson said to the board.

“Unless you have reached out to all families that have had children for any services ... in that preschool in the last seven years, you cannot make that claim.”

Ms. Gustafson’s words of caution are similar to that of attorney Paul Slager, of Silver Golub & Teitell in Stamford, who is representing a child whose parents reported concerns about Mr. Von Kohorn in 2013.

In an Aug. 28 email, Mr. Slager told The Bulletin that the school district’s public statement on the matter is inconsistent with his client’s knowledge of January 2013 events involving their child.

Mr. Slager said “the inconsistencies between Dr. Smith’s statements and Wilton Public Schools’ own reports involving this family’s complaints reveals that Dr. Smith’s recent written statements and verbal reassurances are dangerously misleading, if not knowingly false.”

Ms. Gustafson reminded the Board of Education that “this is about the kids.”

“Many of these kids do not have a voice. You talk to anyone who works with children who have been the victim to any kind of abuse — the worst thing to be told is that something didn’t happen. You can’t do that,” she said.

“There are so many aspects of behavioral issues that manifest in different ways in a child that has been the subject or the victim of improper actions.”

Miller-Driscoll building

Ms. Gustafson also voiced concerns about the condition of the current Miller-Driscoll building.

“I don’t understand why we’ve had, almost since 2002, continual roof leaks. We’ve got warranty expirations in 2015, 2018, 2019. Those roof projects, I think, were done in ’98, ’99 and 2002,” said Ms. Gustafson.

“We had roof leaks already in 2002. Why weren’t the warranties triggered?”

From her understanding, said Ms. Gustafson, there had been communications with the skylight manufacturer about leakage.

“From what I’ve been told and what I’ve read, the skylight manufacturer said, ‘Well, your roofer didn’t caulk 70% of the skylights.’ What’s going on?” Ms. Gustafson asked the board.

“We’re now in 2014. Why have we waited? This begs all sorts of questions with regard to maintenance.”

Ms. Gustafson said part of giving children a good education is making sure facilities are safe and properly maintained.

“Year after year, we’ve deferred maintenance, and I asked in writing to this board, the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance: Exactly what maintenance was deferred?” said Ms. Gustafson.

“When I look at the report on the building envelope, I don’t understand how we could allow the masonry to have disintegrated.”

Ms. Gustafson said she saw a report on Miller-Driscoll requested by the Freedom of Information Act, in which approximately 20 pages were missing.

“Turns out those 20 pages were pictures, and there was mold on the walls of Miller-Driscoll — black mold,” said Ms. Gustafson.

“Is this the environment we want our children — our youngest children — to be in?”

Ms. Gustafson said she found “so many issues about process and protocol” after looking over reports on Miller-Driscoll.

“I’ve come to know in my experience in representing clients — both corporations and developers — that corrupted process almost always guarantees a corrupted outcome. If the process and protocols are not followed properly, you can’t rely on the results,” she told the board.

“We have to be able to rely and trust that process is followed properly. Opening windows for radon test is not — and those are basics. Most real estate brokers know that you don’t do that.”

Ms. Gustafson suggested the education board consider a facilities person to work hand-in-hand with the Board of Selectmen.

“My concern is that over the last 18 years that I’ve been here, we’ve had a facilities person who only reported to the superintendent,” said Ms. Gustafson.

“That becomes a barrier to what the Board of Selectmen gets with regard to information.”

Ms. Gustafson said she would like to see fewer barriers.

“I’d like to see more transparency. I’d like people to respond and not take six months to get information out,” she said.

“This is about transparency; this is about accountability. We could make this better, but it takes a team. It takes access to information and it takes being open-minded.”