Investigation finds decades of abuse at American School for the Deaf

The American School for the Deaf educates students from pre-school through age 21.

(CNN)Allegations of sexual and/or physical abuse leveled against nine former employees at the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, Connecticut, have been found "credible," according to an independent investigation conducted at the school's request.

In an investigative report released last week, the 203-year-old institution published findings that the staff members engaged in "multiple instances of past sexual abuse, and physical abuse and/or corporal punishment from the 1950s through the 1980s."
"As a community, we are devastated," the school's executive director, Jeffrey Bravin, and president of the board of directors, Catherine Burns, said in a joint statement presenting the findings.
      "The revelations exposed during this investigation are heartbreaking, and we are stunned by the realization that former trusted members of the ASD family abused their power to take advantage of innocent, vulnerable children in their care."

        Law enforcement investigating

          In its statement, the school says it reported the allegations to authorities, including the West Hartford Police and the Connecticut Department of Children and Families prior to the investigation.
          Captain Michael Perruccio of the West Hartford Police confirmed to CNN Tuesday that the department began a criminal investigation last March into reports of misconduct at the school. The police department issued a statement saying the investigation is "active and ongoing," and that it would not provide further details.
          The Department of Children and Families issued this statement Tuesday, saying it shared "the sense of outrage."
          "Our records indicate the American School for the Deaf contacted our agency in February 2019 regarding an incident in 1979. This past week, additional allegations were referred to the Department by a law firm on behalf of the school. The allegations reported incidents occurring between the 1950's and 1980's. When we receive reports that date back decades, an assessment occurs as to whether the alleged perpetrators continue to have access to children in their professional capacity. In this instance, we determined no children were currently at-risk.
          "We remain committed to collaborating with the American School for the Deaf, and all of our community partners, towards the goal of creating a safe environment for children. Mandated reporter trainings are regularly offered and additional supports are available as needed."

          Investigation found 'direct, credible allegations'

          The school says it became aware of the allegations in February of last year. ASD hired the Hartford-based law firm of Robinson & Cole to conduct the investigation.
          ASD's investigation found 20 "direct, credible allegations" of sexual abuse, inappropriate sexual relationships or inappropriate sexual conduct against seven former staff members, including one high-ranking member of the school leadership. The accusations against one former staff members involved students "who would have been 12 years old or younger at the time of the abuse," according to the findings.
          Two additional former staff members, both deceased, were named in the report as allegedly involved in physical abuse.
          CNN is not naming the staff members because no criminal charges have been filed. Several of them are dead.
          The report said some of the people named held positions such as dorm supervisor and coach. The school educates students from pre-school through age 21.
          The report said most of the former employees named and still living declined to be interviewed for the investigation.
          One man who did consent to an interview "expressed surprise at the allegations and said that he had only good relationships with the students," according to a listing of findings of the investigation. "He declined to be further interviewed citing his ill health and declined the investigator's offer to postpone the interview."
          Another former employee was confronted with allegations that he sexually abused an 18-year-old student in 1983, admitted misconduct and was terminated, the findings said. Through his lawyer, he declined to be interviewed by investigators.

          Alumni reported physical abuse and corporal punishment

          The report says the high-ranking school official "engaged in grooming and sexual contact" with a student even after she graduated from ASD in the early 1960s.
          The report says that two of that student's acquaintances told investigators they recalled that student was upset when the school official visited her in college.
          Investigators also said that at least 37 ASD graduates reported physical abuse or corporal punishment.
          The students reported a range of alleged abuses, including being forced to kneel on broomsticks, being forced to walk on their knees or kneel for an extended time, being punched and struck with objects and being forced to eat until they vomited.
            ASD characterized the findings as "startling and appalling truths."
            "We offer a sincere and heartfelt apology to the survivors of the inexcusable actions identified in this report and for the fact that the School did not prevent or stop them," Bravin and Burns wrote. They added that the school had strengthened its hiring procedures, installed over 200 cameras on its campus and purchased software to allow anonymous abuse reporting through the school's website.