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Sexual Misconduct Complaints Are Up, Investigator Says

Thursday, April 05, 2012 - 12:26 PM

WNYC School investigator sees spike in complaints

In the first three months of 2012, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District received 248 complaints of sexual misconduct involving school employees, a 35 percent increase over the same period last year.

Commissioner Richard J. Condon, whose office investigates everything from corrupt contractors to the theft of PTA funds, said that part of the rise could be because of the publicity surrounding recent arrests. At least seven New York City public school employees have been arrested this year for sexual offenses involving students. They include school aides, teachers and an assistant principal.

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott has responded by making it easier for principals to see when employees have a history of misconduct investigations, and by reviewing hundreds of old cases -- leading to the removal of eight staff members this year.

"People become more aware of it; teachers and guidance counselors and most of the people in the Department of Education are mandated reporters," Mr. Condon said in an interview. "So they have to report these things."

The Department of Education and the Police Department said they don't know whether the seven recent arrests mark an increase over the same period last year. Nor did the Police Department respond when asked about the recent series of arrests.

But Mr. Condon described an environment in which school employees with an inappropriate interest in students have more access to them now because of cell phones.

"We've even had several cases where the adult in the investigation actually purchased a cell phone for the student so that he could contact the student, or she could contact the student," he said. He recalled cases in which his office tracked hundreds of text messages between a single school employee and a student.

Mr. Condon said his office operates differently from the Police Department, because it investigates non-criminal cases such as touching that isn't sexual, or inappropriate comments. If a prosecution fails because a student won't testify, his office can still pursue the case. "I don't have to prove a sexual relationship if I can prove the relationship is inappropriate," he said.

Fewer than 30 percent of Mr. Condon's investigations of sexual misconduct were substantiated last year. Those that are substantiated are referred to the Department of Education, which must then decide whether to terminate the employee, if it is possible to do so immediately, or remove a teacher from the classroom pending the outcome of an impartial hearing.

Mr. Condon said complaints about sexual misconduct aren't the only ones that went up in the first quarter of 2012. Last year he received more than 3,500 complaints involving various types of offenses, more than double the number in 2004-05.

When asked if his six attorneys and 43 investigators are sufficient for a school system of more than a million students and more than 100,000 employees -- plus outside contractors and after school workers -- he said if the increase continues, "obviously we're going to look for more resources."

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