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City to Examine Policies in Light of Sexual Abuse Accusations

Monday, February 13, 2012 - 12:46 PM

The schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said the city was examining its policies after the arrest of a teacher's aide at an Upper West Side elementary school on charges that he sexually abused an 8-year-old student.

On Monday morning, Mr. Walcott addressed a crowd of about 500 anxious Public School 87 parents who demanded to know how the aide, Gregory Atkins, an Education Department employee who had previously been accused of behaving inappropriately toward a male student at an Upper Manhattan middle school, had wound up in their school. Parents who attended the meeting said they left still confused as to why there was no process for alerting P.S. 87's former principal to Mr. Atkins's history before she hired him.

"I think what people are frustrated about is there’s a lot of procedural talk but no straight answers on how this guy made the cut," said Milanee Kapadia. Her 5-year-old daughter attends kindergarten at P.S. 87 and, for several months, Mr. Atkins worked in her classroom.

"I have to look at our policies," Mr. Walcott told reporters after the meeting. "Moving forward, we will provide as much information as we can to our principals so they can make hiring decisions."

Several parents who attended the meeting said that Mr. Walcott admitted to them that there were holes in the city's policy.

In 2006, Mr. Atkins was accused of giving inappropriate gifts, including a jockstrap, to a male student at Middle School 322, where he was employed as a teacher's aide. Though the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for schools recommended that he be disciplined, no disciplinary charges were filed because there was no finding that the relationship had been sexual. According to the Department of Education, the principal of M.S. 322, Erica Zigelman, discussed the allegations with Mr. Atkins but did not place a letter in his file, which future employers would have seen.

"It is up to the principal on how he or she will reprimand," an aide to Mr. Walcott said. He said that the Education Department typically did not relay information to principals about accusations that are not substantiated. It remains unclear whether P.S. 87's former principal, Jacqui Getz, knew about Mr. Atkins's history before she hired him.

"There was no letter in his file. There was no flag," said Megan Freedman, the mother of a first-grade student. "There must be a loophole."

It was Mr. Walcott's second visit to P.S. 87 -- he was there last Friday, the day Mr. Atkins was arrested. He also visited P.S. 243 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn last week, where a teacher's aide was accused of videotaping sexual acts with elementary school students.

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