More than 100 Newton parents, elected officials and school administrators gathered last night at Newton North High School hoping to shed more light on why a trusted member of their community was facing state and federal child pornography charges.
"As a parent of two children at home -- just as many of you heard the news of these criminal, terrible acts -- I was not only horrified but scared, concerned and angry about what has occurred in this community," Mayor Setti Warren said last night.
Last night's community meeting centered around the arrest of David Ettlinger, a second grade teacher at Underwood Elementary School facing charges of possession of child pornography, indecent assault and battery on a child and posing a child in the nude.
Many parents last night questioned background checks in the Newton Public Schools, with several suggestions that the district do more than just the standard CORI check on teachers, aides and volunteers.
Some parents also asked whether administrators had known of any complaints parents had filed about Ettlinger.
In light of last week's events, Superintendent David Fleishman said the district will undergo an internal review process to look at background checks and training for Newton teachers.
Fleishman also explained that administrators did not know of any complaints that could have been tied to Ettlinger's alleged child pornography and abuse. In addition, Fleishman underlined that the district first found out about Ettlinger's charges the day he was arrested, after federal investigators and police executed a search warrant and at Ettlinger's home in Boston.
Ettlinger was held on $100,000 cash bail last week after his arraignment in West Roxbury District Court. He remains in jail at this time, Fleishman said.
Newton Police Detective Bureau Commander Capt. Paul Anastasia explained to the group last night that Ettlinger is also facing federal charges, which are tied to a federal investigation of a child pornography website based out of Louisiana.
As he had said at a community meeting last week, Anastasia explained that there is no evidence Ettlinger abused any children from Newton.
One local parent, Isabel Stover, told the crowd last night she had used Ettlinger as a babysitter back in October after finding him on the website sittercity.com.
Although Stover said she does not believe anything happened between Ettlinger and her children, the recent events have made the last week "incredibly frightening."
"No matter what we do to check people’s references, you just never know," Stover said, noting that the Newton teacher had "glowing references" from past babysitting jobs.
Larry Berkowitz, director of the Riverside Trauma Center, explained that child abuse suspects often build trust in kids or families before taking advantage. In the case of Stover's 4-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, Ettlinger had only babysat them once.
Since October, Stover said her family had not had the chance to re-hire Ettlinger, but had him on the schedule to babysit on Valentine's Day.
In addition to building up trust, Berkowitz said child abuse suspects are often hard to find because they are able to "compartmentalize" aspects of their personality and not show evidence of their behavior while in public or the workplace.
"In some ways, the good news is that if all the allegations are true, [Ettlinger] was really able to hold it together and do a fine job in many ways and was beloved to many students and adults around him," Berkowitz said. "[That is] why we feel so puzzled and shocked."
Talking to the kids
When talking to younger children, such as those in first or second grade, Berkowitz recommended parents stay calm, use clear conversation and try to relate with concrete analogies the kids can understand; make topics as simple as possible.
Keeping these conversations short and open also helps, Berkowitz said; parents shouldn't pose specific questions such as, "have you ever been touched by this person," as it could risk planting ideas in kids' minds.
"Be brief about what we're saying, keep it within a context and get back to our daily routines," Berkowitz said. "Routines are really important."
In addition to parents, Fleishman said district teachers are also going through the process of learning how to take in the news and speak with kids. In the coming weeks, teachers will receive more information and training on how to handle the situation.
"It is absolutely something that we are taking seriously in terms of looking at better ways of training and getting information to kids," said David Gotthelf, Newton's coordinator for therapeutic services and chair of the district's crisis team.
Any parents who suspect their child may have been a victim are encouraged to contact the Newton Police Detective Bureau at 617-796-2104.