Some records of Essex Tech student turned over in indecent assault case

Staff file photo Robert Vandenbulcke of Salisbury, a culinary arts teacher at Essex Tech, is arraigned on charges he indecently assaulted a student. 

DANVERS — Part of an Essex Tech student’s records will be turned over to the lawyer for a suspended culinary arts teacher accused of indecently assaulting the boy in 2019. 

The records, limited by a judge last week to only those pertaining directly to the teen’s accusation against Robert Vandenbulcke, 64, came to light during a defense investigator’s interview of Superintendent Heidi Riccio, according to a motion filed by the teacher’s attorney in June. 

During the interview, by retired Amesbury police detective Robert Wile, Riccio asked Wile why no one had requested the student’s record, which, she indicated to Wile, included “relevant” information related to the alleged incident, according to defense attorney Gerard LaFlamme’s motion.

LaFlamme asked a judge last week to give him access to the student’s entire record from the beginning of the 2019-20 school year to the present, according to the motion. 

To obtain school or other personal records of an accuser in a sexual assault case, a lawyer must show specific knowledge that they will contain relevant information — in this case, the statement of the school official. 

The district attorney’s office objected to LaFlamme’s request, and it was ultimately narrowed down only to those records specifically related to the alleged incident. 

The context under which Riccio asked Wile why no one had requested the student’s records was not clear. She was one of a number of potential witnesses interviewed by Wile, who works as a private investigator. 

The accuser was 16 at the time and was working in the culinary arts department on the morning of Nov. 12, 2019. He told police he was at the stove when Vandenbulcke walked up, dropped a towel near him, then bent down to pick it up and touched the front of the boy’s pants. 

The boy also told police that five minutes later, Vandenbulcke returned, reached in front of him to turn down a burner, and touched the front of his clothes with the back of his hand. 

The boy and his father reported the incidents that night. 

Riccio said at the time that the school was conducting its own investigation of the incident and had placed Vandenbulcke, a Salisbury resident, on administrative leave. 

She did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment on the question attributed to her by the defense or on the teacher’s current status with the school. 

The case received significant attention when it was first reported due to Vandenbulcke’s role as a teacher as well as his long career as a successful North Shore restaurant owner and food vendor and later as an instructor. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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