HILTON, N.Y. (WROC) — Hilton Superintendent Dr. Casey Kosiorek sat down with News 8 Anchor Adam Chodak Tuesday to talk about the Kirk Ashton case.
Ashton is the principal accused of sexually abusing nine male students at Northwood Elementary School during school hours. Ashton was charged by a Monroe County grand jury Tuesday in a 25-count indictment:
- 7 counts of second degree sexual conduct against a child
- 7 counts of first degree sexual abuse
- 11 counts of endangering the welfare of a child
Kosiorek spoke about the response from Hilton, but also addressed some of the questions being asked in the community.
Adam Chodak: Let’s start with your general thoughts about everything.
Dr. Casey Kosiorek: It’s a shock for the entire community. It’s a tragedy. It’s inconceivable. A lot of questions. Why did this happen? How could this happen? So our community is hurting, very much so. Our staff, our administration, our parents and certainly our students. Any time you send your child to school you’re expecting a safe environment, so we’re all heartbroken that this could even possibly happen here in the Hilton Central School District.
AC: What was your own personal reaction to finding out about all this?
CK: Shocked. Hurt. Disappointment. I first go to the students and just great sadness that these families who are exposed to a situation like this. And then as you move through the grieving process, you become angry, you move through those emotions, but you have to put that aside as a leader in a sense, so I can be a solid leader for this community to help learn from this and heal from this. I do believe I’ve been put in this place for a reason and that is to lead this district through this horrible time.
AC: How are the families directly involved doing?
CK: From the families I’ve heard from who have told me they’re one of the families — because it’s an ongoing police investigation the District Attorney has not released the names to me — so from the families that have shared, they’re doing OK. There is certainly hurt and disbelief and shock, but we’re working closely with the families that have disclosed to us to make sure they have counseling through our district, through Bivona Child Advocacy Center and that we can support them through the process, but we continue to support not only the victims’ families, but all students in the district who are feeling grief and shock and working through the emotional anguish of a situation like this, because many folks looked up to this person as their role model and trusted that person so it makes it very difficult even if you were not a victim per se of this individual everyone is working through the emotion of seeing this person every day, trusting this person, believing they were helping. So overall it’s a very difficult time for the district.
AC: Do you have trouble even saying his name at this point?
CK: I do. I’m hurt, I’m frustrated. It’s been a tough situation and I know there is a lot of anger in the community for this individual because of this so it is a great challenge for us to say his name or even acknowledge that he was a member of our learning community here.
AC: You mentioned Bivona. My impression from listening to police and the District Attorney’s office that a lot of this came out because of a program that Hilton was implementing with Bivona.
CK: If there’s ever any silver lining in this incident it’s that due to Erin’s Law we moved forward with partnering with Bivona to have them come in and teach child abuse and sexual abuse awareness to our students so we feel very strongly that because the students learn this curriculum and learn the vocabulary and understood, that helped them disclose the situation.
And so there’s really nothing good about this situation, but if we were to look at it for any positives, it was that partnership with Bivona that armed these students with the ability to identify what was happening and that was wrong and how to come forward.
AC: And now that it’s kind of out there, the DA alluded to the possibility that there might be more people coming forward. Are you prepared for that?
CK: Well, I don’t know if you’re ever prepared for that. So we’re preparing with the resources at Bivona, working with law enforcement, working with Rochester Regional Health to provide counseling, we’re working with Harris Beach law firm to conduct an independent investigation into our practices and our procedures to make sure that we can do anything we can within our ability to prevent something like this from happening again. So we changed protocol immediately this past Friday on our administration, especially our principals, interact with our students.
These were practices we had in place, but we’re continuing to refine them and that’s that principals are going to have an open-door policy – their doors and their offices will always be open. If the door needs to close for a confidential meeting a second adult will be called into the office. All lights will be on in the offices. If we were to call your child down to meet with the principal, that principal is going to call you and let you know so by the time your child comes home you’re already going to know that we already called the child down to either celebrate them for something good that they did or if it was a behavior management issue, you’re going to know that day that your child had interaction with the principal.
We’ve also instituted a visitor’s log so any time a student comes down to an administrative office we have record-keeping of that, what time they were there and what time they left. Those are just some of the steps that we’ve taken immediately to ensure people, try to regain their trust and confidence in the district and then as a result of our work with Bivona and Harris Beach law firm we’ll have more specific and concrete changes moving forward out of that investigation.
AC: Do you expect more students and alum to come forward?
CK: It’s a difficult question to answer. I have a gut feeling that there may be other students out there who had a negative interaction with Mr. Ashton, but it’s hard for me to give a definitive answer of whether we’ll have more victims come forward or not.
AC: The question about the paid administrative leave: There’s concern out in the community about the paid part. How have you been answering that question?
CK: Currently as a tenured administrator in New York State, there hasn’t been a conclusion to this investigation yet and as we know there’s a lot of anger. There are allegations against Mr. Ashton, but until there is a complete process there, New York State does not allow us to terminate a tenured administrator. We’re looking to work towards a potential separation, but at this point in time we have to go through the appropriate process through educational law as we work through this time.
AC: The other concern involves the 2007 felony DWI – why wasn’t he let go?
CK: I can’t specifically answer it because it’s prior to my time in the district, but having a felony DWI doesn’t preclude you from being an educator in New York State, so that’s a tough one. I don’t have the context for when that decision was made, so I know that’s frustrating for community to not have that information.
AC: Where do we go from here?
CK: I think time is certainly important in the healing process not only for the victims, but the greater community. Moving forward, we’re continuing to provide support to our staff and community through Bivona. They’ve been an absolute blessing to our community, a great resource, so we are providing some individual counseling through Bivona, some family counseling. We’re also working on some long-term healing that will happen in partnership with Bivona.
We’re looking at restructuring the office space in the district. We don’t want students to be re-traumatized if they come down to the office so over the summer we’ll be moving the footprint of the office so it will not look the same. And being patient and being supportive of our community, but also knowing that every day we can take a step forward will be better for our students and for our community.
AC: Do you think it’s beneficial that you are getting students back into the classroom at this time so there can be more face-to-face interaction?
CK: Absolutely. Besides the horrible situation we’re working through, I had the opportunity to greet students at Northwood yesterday and our other elementary schools and it’s just been re-energizing to our staff and our students and being back together.
And when you’re working through a difficult time, the best thing to do is to be together. It really was a positive in the sense of being able to see friends and staff and it was a very emotional day not only for this incident but because it’s been more than 13 months since we’ve had all of our students back in one classroom so it’s been somewhat of a distraction I would think and also just an opportunity to be around people who care about you. It’s just been very beneficial throughout this crisis.
AC: The thing that people keep reaching out to me on social media and asking is, how did they not know?
CK: I lean hard on Bivona Child Advocacy. Deb Rosen, the executive director, and I have spent a lot of time together. We’ve provided a community forum. What we continue to learn from law enforcement and also the experts at Bivona is that these people are very, very manipulative. When you think about it and you think you know what’s happening, people will ask that question, how didn’t anybody know? The reality is, someone who behaves this way is very strategic and very masterful in the manipulation that occurs. When I first heard too one of my first reaction was, how is this happening? How can this happen?
The reality from looking at the research and speaking to the experts in the community is often these are folks that we trust, that we care about, that we even love and they position themselves in a very strategic and manipulative way to take advantage of people. I would also say that if indeed as the reports come in, this has been something that has happened over decades. It’s happened in other situations with this individual, so that’s what makes it so challenging. We certainly are heartbroken by this situation, there are a lot of people who didn’t know and they’re asking themselves like, when I saw this or when I saw that, was that a time?
So I think until the context comes out through the investigation and we learn more about what happened as we conduct our own internal investigation, maybe how this did happen and take steps to make sure that we eliminate any of those. From the research, it’s my understanding this can happen because of the manipulation of these individuals conducting these types of crimes.
AC: And that might relieve some of some guilt.
CK: Yes, and that’s where I think Bivona will play a huge role in helping the community understand that it’s not their fault. Let’s remember there’s one individual who allegedly took some really bad actions and at this point in time I know that people want to find out why and place blame, but at the end of the day, the blame comes down to that person who made those decisions.
AC: Anything else you’d like to add that I might have missed?
CK: This has been an extremely difficult time for our community and one that I hope no other community has to go through and over time I feel like we’ll heal with the appropriate support of the greater community and the community here in Hilton. We thank the New York State Police and the Greece Police and we thank Bivona for all of their efforts in conducting this investigation, and the district has cooperated along the way. Unfortunately at times the community wants answers and we’re not allowed to comment because it is an ongoing investigation, and I know that can be frustrating, but I do want to assure everyone that we’re in lockstep with Bivona and New York State Police as we work through this investigation.