UPPER WEST SIDE — A teacher's aide at the highly regarded elementary school P.S. 87 was arrested Friday on suspicion of sexually abusing a student at the school, the Department of Education said.
In a letter sent to families Friday, the school informed parents that Gregory Atkins, 56, had been arrested on a host of charges. Atkins was accused of sexually abusing a student on Feb. 3, according to the letter from Principal Monica Berry.
He was charged with sexual abuse, endangering the welfare of a child and attempted criminal sex act, police said.
“We have a responsibility to preserve a safe and nurturing environment in our schools, and we take this allegation very seriously," Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement. "Today, I visited P.S. 87 to offer my support to Principal Berry, and pledged to cooperate fully in the ongoing police investigation.”
Atkins had been investigated previously for having an inappropriate relationship with a male student at M.S. 322 in upper Manhattan, according to the DOE.
The investigation was launched after the student's mother alerted the school's principal that Atkins, then 50, seemed to be spending too much time with her son. Atkins "lurked" at her son's sports games, took him out to lunch, walked him home from school and extended an "open invitation" to stay over at his house, the mother told investigators.
He also bought the boy wrist bands, a jock strap, an athletic cup, and rosary beads, according to a report by the DOE's Special Commissioner of Investigation.
The student told investigators that Atkins was "nice" and tried to help him with school work, and said that Atkins "never committed any inappropriate behavior or engaged in any touching of" the student. Investigators eventually determined that Atkins' relationship with the student was inappropriate, but it was not sexual in nature and no charges were filed, a DOE spokeswoman said.
Investigators recommended "appropriate disciplinary action," after the 2006 probe. As a result, the principal had a conference with Atkins, "during which they discussed the nature of the allegations and his behavior, and she set forth detailed guidelines of appropriate job responsibilities," a DOE spokeswoman said.
Two years later, in 2008, Atkins came to work at P.S. 87 as a paraprofessional, or teacher's aide.
When school officials learned of the most recent allegation against him, Atkins was transferred to "a central office location away from students," Berry told parents in the letter.
Atkins has worked for the school system since 2001 as both a substitute teacher and paraprofessional, according to the DOE. He also worked at M218 (I.S. 218 Salome Urena), and M187 (P.S./I.S. 187 Hudson Cliffs), and M.S. 246 Walt Whitman in Brooklyn, according to the DOE.
P.S. 87 will hold a meeting for parents on Monday at 8:30 a.m., when the Manhattan District Attorney's office will answer questions, according to Berry's letter. She warned parents in the note that the Manhattan District Attorney's office or police may contact them to determine if their children were involved or were witnesses to the alleged abuse.
P.S. 87 parent association co-president Rachel Laiserin said parents had no inkling of the allegations against Atkins until they received Friday's letter, and were blindsided by the news.
"Right now we have more questions than anything," said Laiserin. "We're focused on making sure our community is safe and supported. Thankfully we're a strong community and we just have to work together."
Laiserin said parents were looking forward to Monday's meeting and dreaded spending the weekend waiting for answers about the disturbing allegations.
P.S. 87 is one of the most highly sought-after schools on the Upper West Side; in 2010 its waiting list for kindergarten slots was the longest in the city.