HAVERHILL — Alternative School Principal John DePolo and the four other staffers who were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Department of Children and Families have been cleared of wrongdoing by the state agency.
Schools Superintendent Margaret Marotta confirmed that the employees, who were placed on leave at the end of March, were cleared by DCF and said they would return to work "immediately."
"I am pleased that the district and the Haverhill Alternative School have been exonerated of all allegations of abuse and neglect and I am excited for Mr. DePolo and the rest of the Alternative School staff to return to work immediately," Marotta said in a prepared statement.
Reached by phone Tuesday, DePolo said he will "be happy to get back and to support the staff and our students."
DePolo and the four other staff members were placed on leave between March 29 and April 2 after an incident in which the employees had to physically restrain a student. According to HALT teacher Jessica Wright, the student "repeatedly kicked and punched staff and head-butted two staff" and kicked DePolo in the ribs.
"John has made every effort to not be involved in setting limits that have required hands-on intervention," Wright wrote in a letter to the School Committee. "However, in this situation, it was clear that John needed to be involved for the safety of his student and staff. John was put on leave because he was forced to be part of a restraint of a child who was assaulting staff."
Wright's letter also mentioned that DePolo was placed on leave pending a DCF investigation in October in addition to the March incident. Marotta confirmed that two HALT staffers were suspended in October. A spokesperson at DCF confirmed that an investigation was conducted at the school at that time.
The Alternative School is a special education program in the St. James School for students with "social and emotional disabilities" who "need a very small, structured, intensive, therapeutic day school," according to the superintendent.
"Unfortunately at times, kids can become aggressive," Marotta said.
The staff at HALT are trained in de-escalation and physical intervention methods for restraining students who are in danger of harming themselves or others. The superintendent said the staff must undergo a several day training course at the start of their employment at HALT, and undergo a daylong refresher course annually; but according to Wright's letter, the new administration under Marotta has expressed "concerns of the use of hands-on when setting limits, no matter the level of safety that is at risk for students."
Since his second leave, several parents, teachers and School Committee members have come to DePolo's defense, blaming drastic changes in administration policy for increased violence and assaults against teachers at the school.
DePolo and the other employees cleared by the DCF investigation are expected to return to work Wednesday. Another two staff members have been placed on leave pending a separate matter, according to School Committee member Scott Wood. The School Committee was made aware of those suspensions on April 20.