Manchester school leaders and city officials are working on a policy that will spell out how information about crime and safety incidents is disseminated to parents and citizens.
This follows concerns over how information about a rape in one of the city’s high schools nearly two years ago was kept quiet until last week, when the perpetrator was sentenced to jail.
Reporter Mark Hayward has been writing about this topic for the Union Leader and he spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello.
Take us back to September of 2015. A rape occurred in one of the Manchester schools. School and city officials, including Manchester mayor Ted Gatsas, knew about this incident. Was anyone required by law or by policy to disclose this information to the public or to parents?
No, you’re not required to do it. And at that point, police, although they had a suspect and he had confessed, they said an investigation was going on, and they don’t release the names of juveniles. They don’t release any information about [juveniles].
In your report, Mayor Gatsas said the public needs to be aware of incidents like this when they happen, but he also gave reasons why he didn’t make the public aware. What were those reasons?
He did say that the public needs to be aware of them, now. Last week there was a lot of officials saying they like the idea of releasing the information but it’s not their job. The mayor said he thinks that’s something that should have come from the superintendent’s office.
The superintendent, the current superintendent who was not the superintendent two years ago, says he agrees with that theoretically, but that there’s a lot of fine lines you’ve got to worry about when it comes to identifying juveniles. And he said parents are immediately going to start asking questions when you let them know about something like that.
There’s issues involving identity of juveniles, and other people have responded, well sure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let people know that a crime has taken place.
This [incident] happened in September. Almost a year later, in August, the perpetrator Bryan Wilson had been certified as an adult by a judge for purposes of standing trial, publicly. He was charged with three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault. At that point, it could very easily have been made public. There would have been none of those concerns about whether you’re identifying a juvenile.
So what is the new policy school officials and the city are crafting?
Well I haven’t seen a copy of it yet, but the new policy says, we’re going to let people know about these crimes when we can. It’s something that’s very fluid right now, and we’ll see what happens.
One of the key phrases you just mentioned was that the school release information when it can. It seems like, with respect to this event, the school believed it couldn’t release the information given their feelings about privacy of the students involved. So technically, even with a new policy, this information may still not be released in a similar circumstance.
I don’t know, we’re going to have to see. I think in a lot of cities and a lot of towns, there’s an attitude of, why let people know about this, it will only get people upset. Especially something like this, it deals with schools, it deals with young people, it’s going to be a hard nut to crack even if there is a policy.
David Ryan, outgoing assistant school superintendent, said that when he first informed Ted Gatsas about this, Gatsas had a response that sort of took him aback. What was his response?
In direct quotes, it was, “what was the color of the boy?” David Ryan said he was stunned, he doesn’t even remember what his response was. It might have been, “I don’t know.”
Ted Gatsas says, look, there was some racial tension going on at the schools, there was something going on at Central at the time. In the whole country, there was a mood, with racially charged incidents with police shootings, and he just wanted to be prepared for what might have been a difficult situation.
This comes at a very bad time for Ted Gatsas, who is just kicking off his campaign for reelection.
Yes he is. And remember, it happened about two years ago, at about the same time when there was a narrow election and an election for school board.