[EXCLUSIVE] [AUDIO] New Hartford Superintendent on Sexual Harassment Accusations at School
The New Hartford Superintendent of Schools spoke on Friday about the recent student allegations of sexual harassment against at least one of their male teachers, during an interview on WIBX's Keeler Show.
Superintendent Dr. Cosimo Tangorra said that for legal reasons he's limited in what he can say about the accusations against at least one of the district's high school teachers. Tangora said he wants the public to know, "we know this is going on" and an independent investigation will be conducted for every allegation.
The public learned of the first accusation after the Observer Dispatch published a story on Monday regarding a notice of claim filed against the district by the family of a female high school student. The family claims their daughter was inappropriately touched by history teacher Jeffery Walters back in October of last year. According to the OD, the family said when their daughter entered his classroom with two classmates, Walters admired her jeans. They say he then got up from behind his desk and stuck his fingers in the pocket of the jeans for a few seconds.
According to the OD report, a "Stay Away" order was issued to Walters which would have prevented contact with the female student, but that order was allegedly violated on a handful of occasions, the family told the OD. The newspaper also reported that the district failed to report the incident within the required 60-days to their liability insurance company, Utica National, which could mean the district would be forced to pay for "defense costs and judgements" if the insurer disclaims.
Since the initial story went public on Monday, there have been other accusations made public by students, former students and parents about Walters and at least one other male teacher through local media and social media.
"If people have complaints that currently or in the past, that they feel still haven’t been properly handled, I want people to contact me and give me the opportunity to do what is necessary moving forward with these cases," said Tangorra. "There will be an independent investigation...of every allegation and there will be an outcome and the outcome will be used to make any changes that are necessary going forward," he said.
On Monday, students at the senior high organized a walk-out protest on behalf of potential sexual harassment victims at the school, and urged the district to act to ensure that the school is indeed a safe haven for everyone. Tangorra said the school helped facilitate the demonstration and that he encourages students to partake in civil disobedience for causes that feel strongly about. The students also presented a four-page petition to the school with demands that the district "do better" going forward.
[VIDEO] Student Protest at New Hartford High School[/caption]It was also learned that Tangorra met with a group of students about the matter on Thursday, and according to one parent, told students that high school Principal Mark Benson dropped the ball regarding the initial accusation back in October. Tangorra would not confirm whether or not he said that to students during the meeting. When asked if he felt the "ball had been dropped" he said he couldn't answer that question, but did say he felt that in the initial instance, everything was "handled and was properly adjudicated."
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara confirmed on Friday that the Walters case was reported to his office back in October. He said it was investigated and presented to an Oneida County Grand Jury, which rendered a decision not to indict. McNamara said the fact that the Grand Jury did not find the case to be criminal, does not necessarily mean something improper wasn't committed. McNamara was unsure who reported the case to authorities.
Listen to the complete interview with Dr. Tangorra below.
[AUTHOR'S NOTE: As of this posting no arrests have been made in this case. All persons suspected of wrongdoing or charged in any cases are innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.]