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Parents confront New London schools after staff member arrest

May 10, 2019

New London — One parent of a New London student called the arrest of a trusted school employee on sexual assault charges an earthquake whose aftershocks have yet to fully reverberate.

Jasmine Collins predicted far-reaching fallout from the arrest of school climate specialist Corriche Gaskin, who is accused of sexually assaulting an underage girl in his office at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and having sex at the school with multiple teachers, and recording and sharing videos of the encounters on his cellphone.

More than a dozen emotional parents gathered Thursday at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School to air concerns and ask pointed questions of Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie, calling for answers related to Gaskin’s time at the middle school where he worked with numerous students as a youth mentor and coach. Two more sessions were scheduled for Thursday.

“The level of hurt in this situation is very deep,” Collins said. “I hope that staff is being looked at with a fine-toothed comb.”

Collins added that Ritchie had “inherited a poop storm,” as the investigation into Gaskin’s time at the middle school appears to be widening. The district announced Wednesday that multiple school employees were removed from the schools in connection with the investigation.

Ritchie declined to reveal names of employees removed but said everyone has a right to due process and that any credible evidence against an employee should be brought forward. She did say she was disgusted by the allegations, and assured those gathered that “we can’t brush this under the rug.”

Ritchie had called the meeting, also attended by two dozen support staff, to “acknowledge the emotional distress we all face related to the news” and provide resources for anyone in need.

Gaskin, 35, remains held on a $500,000 bond on felony charges he had sex with fellow teachers and at least one student inside the middle school and shared videos of himself engaged in sexual act with others. The events occurred during the 2016-17 school year.

Gaskin had worked with youth in the district, coached sports teams and led afterschool programs — making his arrest all the more shocking for parents and students. He has entered a not guilty plea on charges that range from second-degree sexual assault and child pornography to risk of injury to a minor and dissemination of voyeuristic material.

Parents wanted to know why Gaskin was transferred to Harbor Elementary School at the beginning of the school year. They wanted to know how a person with a felony drug conviction was allowed to work with students and what connections he may have had with staff that allowed him to remain in the district.

The parents also want transparency from the school district, though Ritchie said the answers were either being researched or part of the investigation that involves New London police and the state Department of Children and Families.

“I don’t even have all of the answers yet,” Ritchie said.

New London police Capt. Larry Keating said information and tips continued to flow to the police department every day in what has become a complex investigation. He said some of the information could be credible, some not, but “nothing is ignored.”

Ritchie also heard a host of allegations against past and present teachers and administrators but said “any allegation has to have evidence to support it.”

“You tell us not to trust the rumors but the rumors are coming from our children,” said Karla Jones, who has three children in the district.

Dawn Langworthy, whose daughter worked as a paraprofessional in the district in 2017, said the district should have known about Gaskin. She was not the only one at Thursday’s meeting that said Gaskin’s inappropriate behavior was reported to the school board several years ago.

Others expressed distrust of two of the three administrators at Bennie Dover: STEM Magnet Middle School Director Lawrence Washington and Alison Burdick, director of International Education pathway and former principal at the school.

An internal memo circulated in the district from Ritchie cites an unidentified middle school administrator being placed on paid leave and an investigation “regarding a concern of the handling and possible dissemination of confidential information.” It is unclear if the suspension is related to the Gaskin case.

The Day has a pending Freedom of Information Act request related to the names of the employees placed on leave.

g.smith@theday.com