NORTH ANDOVER — School officials will hire an attorney to review policies, practices and forms called into question by recent news coverage in The Eagle-Tribune, according to a letter school Superintendent Gregg Gilligan sent to parents and guardians Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement follows “events of the past week reported by the media,” Gilligan wrote. He described the reports as “challenging to those personally impacted, our school district, and our community as a whole.
“We will be retaining the services of an outside legal consultant to conduct an independent review of current policies, procedures, and forms relating to reports of student criminal activity and/or harassment, the processing and investigation of such reports, and ensuring a safe and non-hostile environment for all students,” the statement reads.
Gilligan said the findings will be shared with the community.
The statement was the most extensive by school officials since the arrest of North Andover senior Eliezer Tuttle in Salem, New Hampshire, for allegedly raping a New Hampshire girl twice in the same day. Tuttle, 18, remains held without bail in Rockingham County Jail in Brentwood, New Hampshire.
When Tuttle was arrested on those charges, The Eagle-Tribune learned he was on probation for an assault committed against a North Andover High classmate in April 2018.
That classmate and others have contacted The Eagle-Tribune to say that after reporting sexual assaults to school officials, they were presented contracts that controlled where they were in North Andover High in relation to their accused attackers. The contracts, labeled School Safety Plans, threatened the signers with suspension for disobeying.
The School Safety Plans were not mentioned in Gilligan's note to parents. When a reporter followed-up with him, he said privacy laws prevented him from further commenting and then he hung up the phone.
His letter reads: "State and federal laws preclude me from speaking about students, specifics about school actions, or investigations. I can, however, speak generally to some of the issues raised in recent news reports and questions from parents about the law, and I can assure you that North Andover Public School district follows all state and federal laws.
"Any criminal act reported to, or witnessed by, school staff or administrators has been, and continues to be, reported immediately to the North Andover Police Department and other appropriate state and local authorities," Gilligan wrote.
The girls who have spoken out about their cases all said they reported the alleged attacks to school officials who then contacted police.
Gilligan's statement goes on to say that the school district can only issue long-term suspensions to or expel students charged with a felony. It cannot exclude students charged with misdemeanors.
Tuttle was on probation for indecent assault and battery on a person older than 14. Only adults charged with indecent assault and battery can face a felony conviction, according to Essex District Attorney spokesperson Carrie Kimball. Tuttle was a juvenile when he was charged with the crime.
Tuttle’s case in juvenile court was continued without a finding until his 19th birthday this November. “Continued without a finding” means the accused admits to sufficient facts that a reasonable jury would convict him, without actually pleading guilty. If the accused complies with the terms of his probation and is not charged with any further crimes, at the end of the probationary period the case will be dismissed and there will be no record of a conviction. However if the accused violates probation, the judge may impose a guilty verdict without trial.
Gilligan closes the letter by writing: "We owe it to our students to always strive to provide the best services and appropriate support."
He said he has reached out to Youth Services, the North Andover police, the schools' director of nursing, the social emotional learning director, principals, the school psychologist, and the community support coordinator, "so that we can extend our collaboration to continue the discussion on safe school and community environments for all."
From the outset, Gilligan and other school officials have repeatedly refused to comment about why a victim had to alter her behavior and proximity to her assaulter while being threatened with disciplinary action if she did not comply.