Randolph Principal Cited For Sexual Exploitation
Following a three-month investigation, the Orange County Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has cited Randolph Union High School Co-Principal David A. Barnett to appear in court on a felony sexual misconduct charge.
Barnett, 50, of Waitsfield, is scheduled to appear in Orange County Superior Court on April 25, on a charge of sexual exploitation of a minor.
According to state law, the charge pertains to a “sexual act with a minor,” when the “actor” is at least four years older than the minor and is in a position of “power, authority, or supervision” over the minor.
Orange County State’s Attorney Will Porter said this week, in a comment to the Valley News, that he has not yet received the documents he needs in order to make a charging decision.
Investigators cite suspects to court based on the officers’ best determination of the appropriate charge. Prosecutors, after reviewing the data, may proceed to file that charge, amend it to a different one, or decline to file any charge at all.
News of the citation delivered this week to Barnett comes three months after the Orange County SIU opened its investigation into what it has called allegations of “an inappropriate relationship” between Barnett and a former student at the school.
Barnett was placed on paid administrative leave in mid-December, as soon as the Orange Southwest School District Board was advised by police of the allegation and investigation.
There followed—until this week—an awkward three months, during which Barnett was absent from the school and widely known to be the subject of an investigation about which almost nothing was known.
School officials did say early on that police had said the allegation came from a former student.
Meanwhile, school officials, citing personnel confidentiality laws, had studiously avoided naming Barnett when asked to comment about the situation.
This week, the attorney for OSSD, Pietro Lynn, named Barnett, and noted that he remains on paid leave. Lynn added, however, that he anticipates the board “is likely to quickly make a decision on Mr. Barnett’s employment status,” as soon as it has access to “new evidence.”
“I don’t know if the board will wait until the arraignment,” Lynn said. At this time, however, not much more information has been released. The SIU’s press release about Barnett’s citation on a “sexual exploitation” charge is brief, supplying no information about the date(s) or timeline of the alleged offense, nor about any alleged actions.
Wednesday, Lt. Scott Clouatre, who heads the Orange County SIU, said the investigator’s affidavit in support of the charge will not be available until Barnett’s April 25 court appearance. Clouatre declined to provide any further information about the case, including whether any other charges might be filed.
The SIU operates under the aegis of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Last month, Sheriff Bill Bohnyak said some “twists and turns” in the investigation had lead to its protracted length.
Supt. Layne Millington’s statement this week to the “OSSD Community,” and Atty. Lynn’s comments, seem to signal that the board is poised to take action on Barnett’s employment:
“When we learned of the allegations against Mr. Barnett,” the superintendent wrote, “we immediately placed the employee on leave. We shared information with the police to the limits permitted by law. Now that the criminal investigation is complete, we expect to take prompt and appropriate action.”
After noting that “student safety and a supportive learning environment is our highest priority,” Millington added, “The district condemns any educator who uses his or her position to take advantage of students. Professional educators have an obligation to use their authority over students to support learning, not to engage in misconduct.
“We will not tolerate serious misconduct directed at students by our employees. We will administer discipline, up to and including termination of the employee.”
The OSSD Board held a regular meeting Monday, one day before the SIU’s release about Barnett. As of Wednesday, no special meeting of the board had been scheduled.
The Herald was not able to reach Barnett nor his attorney, Brooks McArthur of the Burlington firm Jarvis McArthur and Williams, for comment before going to press.
The Valley News this week quoted Atty. McArthur, who said that his client denies the allegations against him and “intends to aggressively defend himself against the charges.”
Barnett was hired as RUHS’ assistant principal, focused on middle school education, in 2007, filling an administrative vacancy created by the resignation of Judy Hynes.
Earlier in his career, he was an eighth-grade language arts teacher in Maryland, and then, with a move to Vermont, worked for the state Agency of Education as a consultant for middle school education.
The RUHS position was his first administrative post.
While Barnett has been out of the school and on administrative leave, other administrators at RUHS have stepped up to assist the school’s other co-principal, Elijah Hawkes.
The charge of sexual exploitation of a minor carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000, or both.