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City Moves to Fire 8 School Employees With Past Misconduct Toward Children

By Leslie Albrecht | March 15, 2012 4:43pm | Updated on March 15, 2012 5:31pm
Schools chancellor Dennis Walcott outside P.S. 174 in Queens in February. A teacher at the school was arrested on sexual abuse charges.
Schools chancellor Dennis Walcott outside P.S. 174 in Queens in February. A teacher at the school was arrested on sexual abuse charges.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MANHATTAN — Eight school employees with a history of inappropriate behavior toward children have been targeted for firing, the Department of Education said Thursday.

The move follows a Department of Education review of personnel files dating back to 2000 to weed out teachers and other school employees who had a record of misconduct with students.

The employees are:

• Christopher Azzoparti, a teacher at I.S. 285 Meyer Levin in Brooklyn

• Reynold Batson, a teacher at P.S. 345 Patrolman Robert Bolden in Brooklyn

• Jonathan Polayes, a teacher at Baruch College Campus High School in the Flatiron District

• Delroy Giscombe, a teacher at A. Philip Randolph High School in Harlem

• Andre Harris, a paraprofessional at Humanities & Arts Magnet High School in Queens

• Mark Sears, a teacher's aide at Port Richmond High School in Staten Island

• Simon Wilkins, a paraprofessional at J.H.S. 13 Jackie Robinson in Harlem

• Frederick Wright, a paraprofessional at  P.S. 96 Joseph Lanzetta in Harlem

Chancellor Dennis Walcott called for the probe in the wake of a troubling series of arrests of school employees on sexual abuse charges in schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Walcott said he personally reviewed about 250 files of employees who had records of misconduct with children that had been substantiated by the DOE's Special Commissioner of Investigations. In many of those cases, employees had been disciplined either with a monetary fine, a suspension, or by having a letter put in their personnel file.

The eight tagged for firing were employees who weren't sufficiently disciplined, Walcott said.

Four were paraprofessionals or teacher's aides who were terminated over the last several weeks, four were tenured teachers who can't be fired immediately. The teachers have been reassigned away from children.

Details of each employees' misconduct weren't released immediately, but Walcott gave a glimpse of some of the cases to reporters.

In one instance an employee brought a video camera into a bathroom while 10-year-old boys were using the toilet. In another, an employee repeatedly touched students, hugging them, rubbing their arms and playing with their hair.

"They were cases that I took a look at, both as a chancellor and a parent and grandparent and I found them unacceptable," Walcott said.

But Walcott noted that the DOE sweep was limited by some restrictions. There's a three-year statute of limitations after which disciplinary action can't be taken against school employees who've been found guilty of misconduct.

And in a number of past cases where teachers were found guilty of acting inappropriately with children, the DOE had wanted to fire the employees, but the terminations were halted when the cases went to a union-mandated arbitration process, Walcott said.

One of the eight employees on the list for firing had been found guilty twice of misconduct with children, and in both instances arbitrators had prevented his termination, Walcott said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew released a statement saying, “The UFT supports a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct and also the rights of anyone so accused to a fast and fair investigation and hearing.”

He added, "If the DOE had properly investigated these cases, and where appropriate brought charges, the chancellor wouldn’t be in damage-control mode right now."

In a letter to principals released Thursday, Walcott said the DOE is launching an "enhanced tracking system" that will flag employees with a history of past misconduct. DOE has also created a team, the Disciplinary Support Unit, dedicated to making sure that "appropriate action" is taken when DOE investigators find employees guilty of inappropriate behavior.