Warwick, RI – The City Council voted 6-2 to subpoena the School Committee for a copy of the “Ragosta Report” on the handling of allegations of inappropriate conduct with students against Gorton Junior High School Science Teacher Mario Atoyan.
City Councillor Camille Vella-Wilkinson said the allegations were brought to her attention after Atoyan was placed on leave pending the results of his day in court on unrelated sexual assault charges in North Kingstown brought against him March 20.
The dissenting votes came from Councilmen Joseph Solomon and Merolla, the latter of whom argued a subpoena demanding the report would violate the School Committee’s attorney-client privilege and could possibly expose the city to a lawsuit.
“That’s why we’re a legislative body, not a judicial body,” Merolla said. “I don’t think this body is the right place to act as a court as you would by subpoenaing records.”
Merolla reminded Council members of incidents where the City Council had heard testimony inside closed session, and warned subpoenaing the Ragosta Report would open the Council to similar actions.
“I’m very concerned that the same could be done to us,” Merolla said. Also, he said, releasing it would compromise attorney-client privilege, since the author, Vincent Ragosta, is a lawyer, and his legal opinion makes up a portion of the report.
Instead, Merolla suggested that the Council would get the information they’re interested in with an earlier resolution the Council passed to invite Mayor Scott Avedisian and School Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Ahern to talk about the incidents in the report.
Vella-Wilkinson was clearly not swayed by the argument as she responded to the suggestion that the Council let the matter drop with a passionate appeal.
The Ragosta Report, Vella-Wilkinson said, is not like other cases the City Council is familiar with.
“This was a huge cover-up,” Vella-Wilkinson said. She said the school resource officer wasn’t allowed to do his job when allegations against Atoyan were investigated.
“Why? Because they couldn’t manipulate the Warwick Police Department. That’s why,” Vella-Wilkinson said. Vella-Wilkinson was also not swayed, she said, by people who say the children involved have since moved on.
“We still have children in the school district. And I don’t feel that it’s an appropriate thing, that it’s the ethical thing, that it’s the moral thing, that as an individual that has been elected to represent my people in Ward 3, who are constantly talking to me about this report, who are talking to me about a School Committe that’s a runaway engine. They haven’t faith in them, they don’t know if their children are safe during the school hours because of these ridiculous manipulations and cover-ups. I’m not going to sit on my hands.”
“How can you have the nerve to sit there and ask what’s the deliverable on a resolution for community outreach…when there’s been $30,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on an investigation with information that’s never been made public. Or, whether it’s continuing to be made, or, we don’t know whether we can trust the administrators that are in charge of the school district?
“It’s enough. This whole thing came to be in May. It’s the middle of September. I’ve had enough of this,” Vella-Wilkinson said.
Councilman Steven Colantuono said he was also interested in the report, but feels the Council is only likely to get a redacted copy without the elements protected by attorney-client privilege.
Colantuono said he was acutely interested in the entire report, however, particularly as the parent of a special needs student who is entirely dependent on the care and trust he places in the School Department.
Councilman Edward Ladouceur also reiterated his commitment to obtain a copy of the report. “I want to know the details of the report because I paid for it and the people I represent paid for it,” he said.
The resolution, amended to specify that the report be delivered even if it only exists as a transcript, demands the report be delivered to the City Council by Oct. 14.
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