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New York State Education Department March 21, 2008


Separation Agreement / Tave & PVSCD






April 2008 New York State Commission of Investigation Report

Putnam County Office of the District Attorney

Press Release July 3, 2008

New York State Commission of Investigation Report excerpt: 

Initially, the report found, (Sheriff) Killarney told prosecutors (at a Grand Jury in 2005) that the teacher told him “nothing happened.” But then two years later, he testified at a State Education Department hearing that the teacher told him the student had come in after school for extra help, that she started to pass out when writing on the blackboard, that he grabbed her and laid her down on the floor, and that he got her some water, according to the report. This account corresponds to allegations brought by Laura Bliss….

“The handling of this case was completely unacceptable, and, as a result, we may never know what occurred in the classroom that day,” said Alfred D. Lerner, chairman of the Commission of Investigation. “There are established protocols for how cases like this are supposed to be handled, and they were not followed in this instance.”

“The Commission was astounded by Investigator Killarney’s level of incompetence. His inaction hampered efforts to determine what transpired between Jane (student) and the Teacher.”

November 21, 2011

We have finally reached the end of a long journey with the final hearing of our daughters case in a Federal Civil Rights trial where we were unsuccessful in our efforts to hold the teacher and school district responsible for our daughters sexual assault in 2001. The Justice assigned to our case decided against allowing us to enter into evidence two of the most important documents that are available to read above. The State Education Dept. decision and suspension of Dennis Tave’s teaching license and the Commission Of Investigation report that outlined the failures of the Sheriff’s Dept, The Putnam County District Attorney’s office and the School District – especially Middle School Principal Edward Hallisey. The jury was allowed very little evidence with which to judge our case. Tave had to be found responsible for the sexual assault before Principal Hallisey and the School District could be held accountable. We had tried to add the Sheriff and District Attorney to this case after the Commission report proved their wrongdoing and mishandling. Ultimately, the broad rights of “qualified immunity” shielded them from the suit.

The State Education Dept’s suspension of Tave’s license in 2008 was due to a) the finding that Tave was in the classroom with our daughter – that she fainted – and he did not seek help or inform anyone per his admission to the Sheriffs Dept and school administration, and b) that Tave acted inappropriately with many students who testified at the SED hearings.

We will never know the motive for Sheriff Don Killarney to withhold the information that Dennis Tave admitted to being in his classroom with our daughter in February of 2001 during his interrogation at the Sheriff’s office in May of 2003. This admission came as Tave twice failed a lie detector test. Why Killarney did not testify to this at a Putnam County Grand Jury in 2005 is also unexplained. Not until the State Education Dept became involved in 2007, did Sheriff Killarney admit this on the witness stand. What we do know is that his actions irreparably damaged an investigation as these excerpts from the Commission of Investigation report highlight:

New York State Commission of Investigation Report excerpt:

Investigator Killarney’s failure to memorialize his interview of the Teacher was egregious, as were his differing accounts as to the substance of that interview. During his conversations with ADA Gallagher, Investigator Killarney said that the Teacher had told him that “nothing happened,” and had issued other blanket denials of wrongdoing. Investigator Killarney repeated this version of events when he testified before the grand jury on May 13, 2005. Two years later, on May 31, 2007, however, Investigator Killarney purported to recall details of the interview. On that date, he testified at a State Education Department hearing that the teacher had told him during their interview that:

“Jane (student) came into the room one night for some extra work, and he had written something on the blackboard, and she was standing up at the blackboard writing on the blackboard when he noticed that she started to pass out like she was fainting. He grabbed her and laid her down on the floor so she wouldn’t fall and got her some water. And then when she came around he said come on, you got to get out of here [Jane], it’s late.”

When questioned by the Commission about the discrepancy between his grand jury testimony and his NYSED testimony, Investigator Killarney claimed that when he testified before the grand jury he did not feel that the inclusion of the detailed information that he later provided to NYSED was important. Investigator Killarney also told the Commission that he never shared this additional information with ADA Gallagher.

“The Commission was astounded by Investigator Killarney’s level of incompetence. His inaction hampered efforts to determine what transpired between Jane (student) and the Teacher.”

Our daughter becomes another sad statistic – a victim of sexual assault. She valiantly stood up and testified consistently again and again as her case wound through a system designed to protect institutions entrusted with her care including the school district, the Sheriff’s Dept and the DA’s office. Until as late as 2009, they all held more information as to what happened to our daughter then we did as parents. Only after multiple court challenges did our family get discovery of school investigation notes that showed Tave had also admitted to being in the room with our daughter to school administration. Tave’s assertions that the story was a complete fabrication, that our daughter never came to his classroom, and that he was never available to give extra help to students after school conflict with evidence and testimony.

The State Ed Dept. findings did indeed find my daughter more credible than Tave regarding whether they were in his room together. But the SED could not find that she was sexually assaulted because she was unconscious. That’s what the date rape drug will do – it acts quickly and effectively rendering one unable to know what is happening to them. She remembers what Tave did before she passed out and the condition she was in when she regained consciousness – her lower garments around her knees and shoes on but untied – at first unable to stand.

Though our daughter was just 12 when this incident occurred, she received the usual treatment of a rape victim. Strike #1: If you are drugged and can’t remember what someone did to you – you will not be successful in court against the one who assaulted you. Strike #2: If you delay in reporting the incident which is so common in cases of child sexual assault – you will most often not be successful in court. This is especially the case where an authority figure like a teacher is the perpetrator.

Yes – the loss in civil court is disappointing. What my daughter does know is that her coming forward has possibly impacted a decades worth of students who might have had Tave as a teacher. Tave is a pedophile – pure and simple. The SED suspension of Tave’s license stands regardless of this decision. The SED suspension means Dennis Tave will not be allowed in a classroom again until he has undergone a forensic psychological exam. Tave has not been in a classroom since our daughter came forward in 2003. Our daughter takes great comfort in knowing that she saved other children from his possible actions.

It is disheartening to read the published comments of current PV Teachers Union head Gerry Carlin regarding the outcome as appeared in a Journal News article on 11/24/11. “He will never get the last 10 years of his life back,” Carlin said. “But he can now move forward with everyone knowing he was completely innocent of these fraudulent charges.” Carlin’s words of sympathy that a teaching career was ruined by a single student signal once again that friendship and loyalty trump the proper handling and consideration of serious charges of child sexual abuse.

This is the institutional failure of schools, churches, and other organizations that needs to change. Putnam Valley should learn its lesson from the way it handled my daughters case as outlined in the NYS Commission of Investigation report released in 2008 where it excoriated Prinicpal Edward Hallisey for among other things “stonewalling” any possible invstigation to keep it “in-house” and “trashing the student”per the testimony of then acting superintendent Robert Pauline. Only after the school system made a “deal” with teacher Tave that had him resign in October of 2003 did Principal Hallisey receive the tenure he was denied due to his own behavior. The fact that Principal Hallisey has a daughter the same age as ours points to his lack of any sense of decency and moral values as a human being as well as a school administrator charged with the duty of protecting his students. As shown in the latest news regarding the Penn State abuse case of Jerry Sandusky and the school’s head coach Joe Paterno – it is unfortunately quite common to see the circling of wagons to protect ones own friends, co-workers and institutions even in the face of such tragic abuse of children.
I recommend Gerry Carlin view the State Ed Dept. recommendation outlining Dennis Tave’s behavior that led to his suspension. If he believes that Tave wasn’t a problem then he needs to open his eyes and do some soul searching. I would also suggest that he read the NYS Commission of Investigation report which detailed the multiple failures of the school district. As the “Separation Agreement” document above shows – the school district made a deal with Tave to resign in exchange for ending their own investigation into his actions AND giving him a “Letter of Recommendation”.
All involved in this case should recognize their failures and implement the changes outlined in the Commission report. Our family doesn’t want to read about another incident like this handled the same way with the same disregard for the victim.

It is very unlikely that our daughter was the sole victim of Dennis Tave. His inappropriate behavior with other students is documented in the SED report. We are reaching out to any other student who carries the burden and secret of being assaulted by Dennis Tave to feel free to contact us in confidence. We can help you heal by putting you in touch with those who can give you the proper assistance. There is no shame.

The Bliss family would like to thank all who have supported our efforts over the last eight years to seek justice for our daughter. We now look forward to putting this chapter of our lives behind us as we look to a future of great promise for our daughter and our family.