Warwick, RI — The City of Warwick has denied Warwick Post’s public records request for the “Ragosta Report” on the handling of allegations of inappropriate conduct with students against Gorton Junior High School Science Teacher Mario Atoyan.
Local accusations regarding Atoyan’s conduct with students earlier in the year were brought to light shortly after the teacher 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.
Despite the claim of Richard D’Agostino, superintendent at the time, that Atoyan had no prior incidents alerting officials he was a safety risk, a parent had reported the teacher drew a picture of a penis on her 13-year-old daughter’s arm a year prior to his arrest in North Kingstown, according to Turnto10.com.
D’Agostino retired in June. Rosemary Healey, compliance officer and director of human resources at the School Department, was reassigned to handle the human resources department, then placed on leave. Dennis Mullen, the former director of Secondary Education, recently took a job in another district.
The “Ragosta Report,” presented to the School Committee by attorney Vincent Ragosta in May, details the trio’s handling of the local allegations against Atoyan.
School Committee Vice Chairman Eugene Nadeau told Warwick Post July 17 that the Ragosta Report was the end result of their investigation into the matter, and implied the personnel changes were guided by it.
“That should satisfy anybody’s appetite,” Nadeau said at the time.
In the City’s denial of the Warwick Post’s request for the Ragosta Report,Warwick City Solicitor Peter D. Ruggiero claims the School Department’s investigation is ongoing.
“The Mayor’s office has been informed that the Records concern a continuing investigation by the School Committee and School Department concerning the subject of the information contained in the Records and are not subject to disclosure under that exemption of the APRA (Access to Public Records Act),” Ruggiero wrote.
The Warwick Post also requested the Ragosta Report from the School Committee in July, which was also denied, and then appealed the denial to RI Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office.
The School Committee also argued its denial under the investigatory records exemption, and when questioned by the Attorney General’s office in detail, resorted to denial on the basis of attorney-client privilege, which the Warwick Post argued was also not applicable. That appeal is still pending a decision.
After months of meetings punctuated by angry statements about the School Committee’s repeated refusal to release a copy of the report to the City Council, and several public protestations about the public nature of the documents and the public’s right to access the information, the Warwick City Council voted to subpoena the School Committee for the Ragosta Report in September. The School Committee fought the subpoena in Superior Court.
Ruggiero and City Council legal counsel John Harrington argued that the School Committee’s denial of the City Council’s subpoena, based on attorney-client privilege, was not valid. In November, Superior Court Judge Bennett R. Gallo ordered the School Committee to honor the Warwick City Council’s subpoena in a bench decision that did not address the specifics of the case.
“The order of the Superior Court did not authorize nor require release of the Records to the public, nor address whether the Records constituted public records subject to disclosure,” Ruggiero wrote in the City’s denial of the Warwick Post’s request for the Ragosta Report.
A public records request by the Warwick Beacon to the City for the report was also denied. The Beacon reported Dec. 29 that it has appealed that decision to Kilmartin’s office. The Warwick Post has also appealed the City’s denial of its request for the report.
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