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Newton reviews hiring policies after two child pornography arrests

By Deirdre Fernandes
Globe Staff / January 29, 2012
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Newton’s mayor, school superintendent, and city staff members held the first of several meetings Friday afternoon to review hiring policies and training practices in the wake of the recent arrests of two public employees on child pornography charges.

“We’re going to look at everything,’’ Mayor Setti Warren said. “We want to take a look at what options there are inside the city, outside the city, and within the balance of the law.’’

The sessions will look at how supervisors handle reports of complaints, what kind of training they should receive, and whether the city needs to conduct additional screening of prospective employees, Warren said.

They will report their findings to the public, he said.

The review group will include a representative from both the School Committee and the Board of Aldermen, and more details will be ironed out by the next School Committee meeting on Feb. 13, Superintendent David Fleishman said after Friday’s session.

Peter Buchanan, an employee of the Newton Free Library’s audiovisual section, was charged last week with three counts of possession of child pornography and two counts of distribution of material depicting a child in a sexual act. He pleaded not guilty in Newton District Court.

Earlier this month, David Ettlinger, a second-grade teacher at Underwood Elementary School, was charged in West Roxbury District Court with indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and posing a child in a state of nudity. He was also charged with possession of child pornography in Brighton District Court. Ettlinger has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In addition, federal investigators accuse Ettlinger of participating in an international website that trafficked in child pornography.

The city did a criminal history check on Buchanan before he was hired over 10 years ago, while Ettlinger was checked under the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information law every three years, most recently last year. Human resource officials found no problems during those checks, Newton officials said.

Geoff Epstein, a School Committee member whose son had Ettlinger as a teacher, said that a fresh look should be taken at the city’s policies. “I think we need to look at the past history . . . to see if there’s anything we could do better,’’ Epstein said.

Alderwoman Greer Tan Swiston said the city should look at ways to investigate an employee’s criminal background outside of the state. According to city officials, the CORI checks only report criminal history in Massachusetts. “That seems like a gaping hole,’’ she said.

However, it is unlikely that a nationwide check would have flagged either Buchanan or Ettlinger, according to authorities, because they didn’t have a criminal history.

In a meeting on Tuesday, some parents asked what had been done with earlier complaints about Ettlinger, including an accusation that he had kicked a student.

Fleishman has said that there were no reports of any incidents that clearly pointed to behavior that led to the arrest. The few complaints against Ettlinger were investigated at the time by school officials, who determined that they didn’t warrant disciplinary action, he said.

Newton officials have found only one written report from a parent accusing Ettlinger of kicking a child. Officials looked into the charge and decided it wasn’t an aggressive kick, Fleishman said. “There are always two sides,’’ he said.

Former Newton superintendent Jeffrey Young, who now heads the Cambridge public schools, said he doesn’t recall any complaints about Ettlinger reaching his desk. Young was superintendent during much of Ettlinger’s 12 years in Newton.

The school system is in the process of firing Ettlinger, with a hearing scheduled for this week, Fleishman said.

Parent Chris Lynch said she is hopeful that school officials will review the situation.

“The Underwood community is a wonderful community of families, teachers and administrators,’’ Lynch said. “Naturally, the Ettlinger incident has precipitated a lot of questions and second-guessing. I have a lot of confidence, with this school administration and this central administration, we will get answers and change, and that out of this tragedy Underwood will become an even better school.’’

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@

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