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Teacher Accused of Hijacking School Website Sues Colleagues

ROSEBANK — A tech-savvy Staten Island teacher accused of holding his city school's website for ransom is suing his colleagues for getting him bounced out of the classroom and into a "rubber room" office.

Francesco Portelos, 34, claims in a lawsuit that he was removed from his job at Berta Dreyfus Intermediate School 49 on April 26, 2012, after teachers Susanne Abramowitz and Richard Candia bad-mouthed him to school officials.

Abramowitz told Principal Linda Hill that in January 2012 he cursed at her and had been acting irrationally for weeks, the legal papers say. Candia complained in March that Portelos hacked into his email and computers, according to the lawsuit filed on Feb. 19 in Staten Island Supreme Court.

The alleged smear campaign continued up until a day before his removal. That afternoon Abramowitz put the minutes of a teacher meeting in staff mailboxes, which contained accusations of Portelos holding the school's website hostage until officials removed disciplinary letters from his personal file, the lawsuit says.

The school compiled more than 18 allegations of misconduct against Portelos, which were passed along to the office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the Department of Education, according to the lawsuit. Portelos claims they were all false — and Candia made about nine of them.

Since his removal, Portelos has been reassigned to an administrative office. Portelos has been blogging about his experience on his website ProtectPortelos.org.

He made headlines in October, when he set up a web cam to livestream his time in a reassignment office. The video shows him sitting alone at a desk in a sterile room — all while collecting his $75,000 salary.

In 2010 the city Department of Education got rid of so-called "rubber rooms," where teachers accused of bad behavior idled away their days until their cases had been adjudicated. The DOE says it now puts reassigned teachers under supervision in administrative roles.

Portelos wanted to become a superintendent and was taking an education leadership program at CUNY College of Staten Island to be licensed as a school and district administrator. Those aspirations have been dashed by the allegations, according to the lawsuit.

Part of the course work involved shadowing administrators of other schools, but with the allegations against him, none wanted him around. As a result, he took an incomplete in the courses.

"[Portelos], who aspired to move up to higher positions in education, such as superintendent, has been falsely labeled as a 'loose cannon,'" the lawsuit says.

Portelos did not immediately return a call for comment. He seeks an unspecified amount in damages for the alleged defamation.

Abramowitz declined to comment. Candia did not immediately return a call for comment.