New London school district suspends employees as investigation continues

May 14, 2019

New London — School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie has suspended five school employees since March 20 — fallout from the arrest of middle school employee Corriche Gaskin on charges that he sexually assaulted an underage girl inside the middle school.

The list of employees placed on paid administrative leave, obtained though a Freedom of information request by The Day — includes two top administrators from Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School: STEM Director Lawrence Washington and Alison Burdick, director of International Education pathway.

Washington, who has worked for the district since 2011, was issued a notice on May 10 informing him that concerns about his conduct had been reported to the district and he was being placed on paid administrative leave “in order to properly investigate these concerns,” according to the letter from Director of Talent and Human Resources Taryn Bonner.

Burdick, the former principal of the entire middle school who has worked in the district since 1998, was placed on leave May 8 based on a “concern about the handling and possible dissemination of confidential information.”

Washington could not be reached to comment. Burdick referred questions to her attorney, Jamie Sullivan, who called the investigation relating to Burdick a “witch hunt.”

“Dr. Burdick had absolutely no involvement with Mr. Gaskin in any way whatsoever,” Sullivan said. “Mr. Gaskin reported to and was supervised by other administrators. Dr. Burdick knew nothing of Mr. Gaskin’s transgressions and had no reason to know. Had she known she would have been the first person to stop the transgressions and reported him immediately.”

Sullivan said Burdick and other employees were told by the superintendent to cooperate fully with the ongoing police investigation into Gaskin.

“She was cooperating with police as she was ordered to. There’s nothing wrong about that and everything right about that,” Sullivan said. “She should be reinstated immediately. Failing to do so will cause her to seek every legal recourse and remedy.”

Ritchie has repeatedly declined to discuss any personnel issues but at a community meeting on Monday she said the investigation is headed by police and that district employees cannot hand out student information without a warrant from police.

Also suspended were district employees Melissa Rodriguez and Laquana Sheppard. Both received letters on May 3 informing them they were being placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. They were told not to report to work until further notice, not to discuss the investigation with anyone and not to access district computer systems or programs while on leave. At least one of the two has since resigned, though their connection with Gaskin is unclear. The Day has filed a Freedom of Information request for the identity of the employees who have left. 

The school doesn’t have an overall principal but is rather split into three magnet pathways. On Monday, Ritchie announced that the third magnet administrator, arts school director Maureen Bransfield, would serve as the overall campus director on an interim basis. Carlos Leal, the principal of Nathan Hale Elementary, was also shifting to the middle school to support students and staff.

Gaskin, held in prison in lieu of a 44,217 annually, on par with someone with a bachelor’s degree, which he doesn’t have.

Gaskin was reassigned to Harbor school on Aug. 30, 2018, according to a letter from Kristina Jordan, the former executive director of school and family support services.

Ritchie, in a letter to the community on Monday, said that the district remained committed to providing safe spaces for children and that the schools would continue to develop and roll out a district-wide response plan to allow for an exchange of ideas and concerns from the community.