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PLYMOUTH, Conn. (WTNH) — A fourth educator has been charged with failing to report abuse or neglect of students by a former Plymouth Center School teacher, police announced Friday.
Plymouth police arrested 59-year-old Chrystal Collins, who was Plymouth Center School principal from July 2003 through June 2019, when she retired.
Earlier this week, Plymouth police arrested 47-year-old Rebecca Holleran, who they said was the interim principal at Plymouth Center School from 2020-21, and is currently a math coach for pre-K through second-grade students.
Police also arrested 59-year-old Sherri Turner, Plymouth Center School’s principal at the time some of the alleged abuse took place, and 45-year-old Melissa Morelli, a pre-K through second-grade math interventionist.
The four educators are each charged with failure to report abuse, neglect, or injury of a child or imminent risk of serious harm to a child. They are accused of failing to report allegations of abuse or neglect of multiple students by James Eschert, a former teacher at Plymouth Center School.
Superintendent Brian Falcone said Holleran and Turner were placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 5, 2021, and Morelli was placed on administrative leave on April 12, 2022. Following their arrests, the superintendent confirmed to News 8 that Holleran, Morelli, and Turner remain on leave.
From left to right: Chrystal Collins, Rebecca Holleran, Melissa Morelli, and Sherri Turner
(Plymouth Police Department)
From 1998 to 2021, Eschert taught both third and fourth grade. He also briefly taught second grade in 2021. News 8 previously reported that Eschert was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 17, 2021. He was then suspended on Oct. 9, 2021, and resigned that day.
Eschert, 51, was arrested in January 2022 and charged with two counts of fourth-degree sexual assault and five counts of risk of injury for alleged incidents that took place during the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2019-20 school years.
Eschert’s arrest warrant obtained by News 8 includes details and information from 13 alleged victims who claimed Eschert inappropriately touched female students, made comments about their bodies, bought gifts for them, and invited them to private lunches and meals at his home.
An alleged victim told police that Eschert “would carry a small camera around and take pictures up the girls’ skirts and down their shirts.”
Another alleged victim said, “…they would tell Principal Turner about him and how he touched them and how they felt uncomfortable, but the principal never did anything about it.”
“Mrs. Morelli wouldn’t want the girls to go near [him],” an alleged victim told their parent.
“The old principal, Mrs. Collins, a lot of people complained to her, but nobody did anything about it,” a victim told police.
The arrest warrant also revealed a mother’s conversation she said she had with Collins.
“She did say something I will always remember. ‘A few other parents have made similar comments that you’re making, but I told them, I’m gonna tell you, it’s just… he’s a phenomenal teacher. That’s his way of teaching. I reassure you everything is fine. But I will look into it.'”
Reaction to the Allegations
The superintendent issued the following statement to News 8 on Wednesday:
The Plymouth Public Schools have learned that arrest warrants have been issued for three Plymouth Center School employees and one former Plymouth Center School administrator for failure to report allegations of abuse or neglect of students by former teacher James Eschert. The current employees were placed on administrative leave when the district notified the Department of Children and Families of the alleged failure to report. Since this is a pending criminal investigation, we cannot comment or share any further details. The safety and well-being of our students will always be our top priority, and we affirm our commitment to protect our children and act in their best interest. All allegations of abuse or neglect of children must be reported to the Department of Children and Families for investigation. Failure to do so is inconsistent with the law and our policies and will not be tolerated.Brian Falcone, superindentent of Plymouth Public Shcools
Since this is a pending criminal investigation, I cannot comment further but I want to reassure parents and concerned citizens that the Town of Plymouth is committed to protecting our children and act in their best interest. I want to thank the Plymouth police for their thorough investigation of this matter and the Plymouth Board of Education for their full cooperation.Plymouth Mayor Joe Kilduff
News 8 spoke with Tracy Davis, the director of the Academy for Workforce Development with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), about what mandated reporting means.
“You don’t have to have all the evidence, all of the information,” Davis said. “That is incumbent upon the staff within the department to put the pieces together if you will. On behalf of the mandated reporter, it’s just that… the suspicion, that you believe that something is occurring… and you make the call to the agency, and we take it from there.”
Attorney Kyle McClain, who has worked closely with municipalities and boards of education, said school employees must orally report known or suspected incidents to DCF within 12 hours and in writing within 48 hours.
“An initial failure to report is considered a misdemeanor,” McClain said. “A second or repeated failure to report can amount to a felony.”
McClain also explained why districts’ hands can be tied when it comes to releasing information.
“Another thing that’s difficult for the public to handle is wanting more information about the situation,” he said. “It makes it tough for school boards, school administrators, school employees to give information because there are a number of laws that govern their ability to answer questions or reveal information.”
On Thursday, News 8 asked Charlene Russell-Tucker, the acting commissioner of the state Department of Education, about the allegations.
“It’s unfortunate when these things are occurring, but we need to know about them,” Russell-Tucker said. “Report them as soon as we’re aware of them to make sure we’re keeping our kids and entire school community as safe as possible.”
The Civil Lawsuit
A victim identified as Jane Doe filed a civil lawsuit against Eschert, Collins, the Town of Plymouth, and the Plymouth Board of Education in June 2022.
The lawsuit claims Eschert openly fondled and caressed students by placing his hands inside their clothing during the 2017-18 school year. The victim said Collins failed to act or protect her, allowing the abuse.
News 8 spoke with Cindy Robinson, the attorney who is representing Jane Doe in the civil lawsuit. Robinson said the young girl wants to see accountability for what she went through and the trauma she continues facing.
The Fairfield-based attorney said the girl endured sexual abuse by Eschert when she was nine years old and in the fourth grade.
“This happened during the school day when school was in session — in the open,” Robinson said. “It involved fondling, caressing. There were times that he had girls under his desk.”
Eschert has been out on a $150,000 bond. News 8 spoke with his attorney, William Conti. He said his client pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence. They’re still investigating and looking into the matter. Eschert is due back in court on Sept. 27.
Collins, Holleran, Morelli, and Turner were released on promises to appear in court. Morelli and Turner are scheduled to appear in New Britain Superior Court on Sept. 7, while Collins and Holleran are due in court on Sept. 12.
News 8 reached out to all four women for comment, but we have not heard back.
The video below is from a newscast on News 8 at 5 on Aug. 24, 2022.
READ: January 2022 Arrest Warrant for James Eschert
Warning: The document below contains content that some readers may find disturbing.