Cranston High School West Psychologist George Blessing was found not guilty Wednesday in a bench trial on the misdemeanor charge of failing to report allegations of “sexual abuse of a child in an educational program” to child welfare authorities. Blessing is the first person to face charges under Rhode Island’s newly amended child abuse reporting law.
The duty to report law was amended by the General Assembly in 2016 to specifically cover children in public and private schools.
Blessing was arrested in April of last year, accused of not reporting that a student had told him of experiencing sexual abuse, allegedly by Cranston West Science Teacher Charles Pearson. Pearson is now facing 12 counts of second degree sexual assault.
Blessing’s attorney Jason Knight says 3rd Division District Court Judge Joseph Ippolito Jr. ruled that the evidence presented by Special Assistant Attorney General Meghan McDonough did not prove the state’s case.
“The judge was not satisfied that there was enough evidence to say that Mr. Blessing should have had a reasonable suspicion, strong enough to call DCYF,” said Knight.
The state’s reporting law requires that anyone with a reasonable suspicion that abuse has occurred must report it to the Department of Children, Youth and Families within 24 hours.
“There just wasn’t enough here for the state to get over the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt hurdle,” said Knight.
Contacted for comment, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, Amy Kempe, said Wednesday’s verdict should be seen as specific to the facts of the Blessing case, and did not “speak to the validity of the reporting law.”
Two other school personnel have been charged under the same law, a Providence elementary school principal and a Warwick school principal.
Kempe said the Attorney General’s office is also prosecuting the Providence case, against Harry Kizirian Elementary School Principal Violet LeMar. Her trial is scheduled for January 16.
Under the statute, failure to report sexual abuse is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to a year in jail, or both.