George Blessing, a staff psychologist at Cranston High School West, is accused of failing to report allegations to child welfare authorities of, “sexual abuse of a child in an educational program.” Blessing is the first person to face charges under Rhode Island’s newly amended child abuse reporting law. A hearing on a motion to dismiss the trial, as well as the potential start of the trial itself had to be postponed, after the prosecutor from the Attorney General's office fell ill. The trial has been rescheduled for early January.
State lawmakers approved new language added to the duty to report statute in 2016, clarifying the responsibility of school employees to report abuse alleged to have taken place in a public or private school.
Police say Blessing was told by a female student last February that she had been touched inappropriately by Cranston West science teacher Charles Pearson. Blessing never reported the abuse to the Department of Children, Youth and Families, as required by the law, according to state prosecutors.
Blessing’s attorney, Jason Knight, said he has filed a motion to dismiss the charge because the term sexual abuse is not adequately defined by the law. Should that motion be denied by the judge, Blessing has entered a not guilty plea. Knight says Blessing did not believe the student’s allegations constituted a reportable offense.
Since Blessing’s arrest in April, two other school personnel have been charged under the same law, a Providence elementary school principal and a Warwick school principal. 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.
This post has been updated.