Communication Breakdown

Bureaucracy left teacher accused of sex misconduct in schools

A teacher reported for looking at pornography on a school computer in January remained assigned to schools until late March, racking up additional complaints that he was loitering in girls’ bathrooms during that time.

During the period when the teacher, Daniel Meagher, was collecting allegations, city officials were demanding more power to fire teachers who misbehave.

Yet the extended timeline between the first allegation against Meagher and his removal from the classroom suggests that the city does not always use the power it already has to shield students from school workers suspected of illicit behavior — and that the Department of Education sometimes does not even know when teachers are accused of misconduct.

According to a report released today by Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon, Meagher behaved inappropriately at three different schools: Bedford Academy High School, P.S. 17, and P.S. 19. A city teacher since 2000, Meagher was assigned to multiple schools as a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions who rotate to new schools each week.

Bedford Academy’s principal called Condon’s office in mid-January after students said they saw Meagher looking at pornography in the school library and other school officials realized Meagher had also been searching online for sexually explicit content about children, according to the report. Investigators quickly began looking into the allegations, seizing Meagher’s computer six days after hearing from the school principal.

But it was not until March 30, more than two months later, that the Department of Education assigned Meagher to a central office position to keep him away from students, according to the report. That month, the principals of P.S. 17 and P.S. 19 each reported that Meagher had been spotted repeatedly in girls’ bathrooms.

The Department of Education removed Meagher from schools as soon as it learned of the allegations, according to Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman. But a spokeswoman from Condon’s office said the department was aware of the allegations from the very beginning, since a department employee — the principal — lodged them.

The disagreement sheds light on the dysfunctional relationship between the two separate bodies that investigate allegations of misconduct in schools. The Department of Education has an internal investigations unit, the Office of Special Investigations, which handles many allegations. Condon’s office is not part of the department but is assigned to scrutinize allegations made about its employees, and unlike OSI it releases some of its findings publicly.

Principals and other administrators are supposed to use a department computer system to report suspicions or allegations of misconduct. Then the department triages the allegations, sending some back for the principals to handle, picking up some cases itself, and sending some to Condon’s office.

“The minute I make that report – I am a mandated reporter — I immediately put it into the system. The DOE should be on it,” said a Queens principal who said he had lodged allegations in the past that had not yielded perceptible responses.

But if a principal goes directly to Condon’s office, the education department does not always find out, Feinberg said.

“We are not always notified about investigations,” she said. “When we were told about this one, we reassigned the teacher.”

Condon’s spokeswoman, Laurel Wright-Hinkson, said SCI decides on a case-by-case basis whether to reach out to the department while an investigation is ongoing.

“SCI is not involved in the reassignment of DOE employees,” she said in an email. “However, occasionally during the course of an investigation, SCI uncovers some information we feel may be detrimental to the welfare of the students or staff. In that situation, SCI will notify the DOE of the findings and may suggest the removal of the subject.”

In April, Meagher was assigned to an office belonging to one of the networks that support schools. There, multiple staff members reported him for exposing himself and behaving in other inappropriate ways, according to Condon’s report. The department is now moving to fire Meagher.

Meagher’s offenses took place at the same time as a spate of high-profile abuse cases emerged from city schools, prompting Chancellor Dennis Walcott to call for a new state law to give him more power to fire teachers found to have misbehaved.

Today, Walcott issued a statement condemning Meagher’s behavior. “Behavior like this is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it in our schools,” Walcott said. “This is an example of why it is imperative for new legislation that would give me the final determination on substantiated sexual misconduct cases.”

But while the legislation Walcott sought would allow him to fire Meagher even if Meagher’s discipline trial does not end with that ruling, it would not actually have had any impact on whether he was are removed from the classroom while under investigation. The department already has the latitude to reassign any teacher suspected of wrongdoing.

“We have the power — it’s just a matter of doing it quickly and effectively,” said the Queens principal.

Condon’s complete report is below.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.