Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Education

Hernando school psychologist suspended for mishandling rape report

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County school psychologist has been suspended for 10 days without pay after failing to properly disclose information about a reported rape to the state's abuse hotline, according to a recently closed district investigation.

LaVerne Kalafor, 57, was at Eastside Elementary on Feb. 13 — her second day at the school.

About 10 minutes before the afternoon dismissal bell, a second-grade girl — in the presence of two other girls — told Kalafor that she had been raped by her stepfather, according to a memo from Mary-Grace Surrena, the district's director of student services, to superintendent Bryan Blavatt and executive director of business services Heather Martin.

The dismissal bell rang at 3:50 p.m. Kalafor had the girls write down their names and then let them go.

Kalafor said the unidentified girl did not seem distressed and "did not feel like she was in imminent danger," according to the investigation.

Kalafor looked for an administrator to report the incident but couldn't find one. She said she left a note on assistant principal Heather McCarty's desk telling her about the incident and asking her to call her immediately.

She left school at 4 p.m.

McCarty found the note before she left for the evening but said she couldn't read it — it was written in purple ink on purple paper and apparently had bled and was illegible.

When Kalafor didn't get the phone call she was expecting that night, she called a school social worker for direction. She couldn't remember the child's name.

The next day, Feb. 14, she addressed the issue with administrators and called the abuse hotline.

An investigator from the Florida Department of Children and Families interviewed those involved, indicating that the state should have been informed the night before.

"Ms. Kalafor relayed that looking back, she knows that she should not have let the student return to class," according to Surrena's memo. "Furthermore, when asked why she did not call her supervisor, she stated that she did not think of that."

Florida statutes required Kalafor to make a report to the abuse hotline, not school administration, according to Surrena.

Kalafor signed Hernando's "Annual Procedures Review Acknowledgement Statement" in September, which shows she knew of the reporting requirement.

While investigating, Eastside Elementary principal Timothy Urban told Kalafor that school administrators should have told immediately "because this decision compromised the safety and well-being of an EES student," according to a Feb. 15 email from Urban to Surrena.

"Her response to me was, 'Well, it was only eight hours,' " Urban wrote.

He also wrote: "Her explanation for letting the child leave her presence was that the dismissal bell had rung and that she had a doctor's appointment to get to."

In a March 4 letter, Blavatt recommended that Kalafor be suspended without pay, then terminated.

Later that month, he changed his mind, only recommending the 10-day suspension, which began March 20 and will end Tuesday.

"I'm sure people will think that it should be more severe, but there are a number of (mitigating) circumstances involved in it," Blavatt told the Tampa Bay Times.

He said similar situations have resulted in 10-day suspensions.

Blavatt did have stern words for Kalafor.

"It is disappointing that a person in a position such as yours and with your years of experience would not take the appropriate action immediately when information such as this was brought to your attention," he wrote in a March 19 letter.

Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, said Kalafor had just started working at that school and was meeting the students for the first time. One reason she didn't immediately call the hotline, he said, was that she was trying to determine if the incident was a new or old case.

"She didn't know the background history of the child," Vitalo said.

Kalafor has been with the district since August 2006. She has 31 years of instructional experience.

The Florida Department of Education's Office of Professional Practices Services will also conduct an investigation. Disciplinary action could range from doing nothing to stripping Kalafor of her teaching certificate.

In response to the 10-day suspension, Kalafor sent a letter saying the "charges are unfounded and that the discipline remains excessive."

She listed several extenuating circumstances, including inadequate training, her new school assignment, the timing of the events and the absence of any indicators of child abuse.

She asked that the charges be discarded and that she be immediately reinstated.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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