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Stonington fired high school coach for 'inappropriate' messages to female students

Stonington — The school system fired an unidentified high school coach in December 2019 for sending "inappropriate" Snapchat messages to two female students.

The firing was revealed Tuesday, when the state Office of the Child Advocate published a 52-page report that criticized school officials for their handling of the sexual harassment allegations against former high school teacher and coach Timothy Chokas.

The OCA report states that during its investigation, another set of allegations emerged about a male coach's "inappropriate communications with two minor girls," one of whom was 15.

The termination of the coach was never mentioned by school administrators in the monthly personnel reports that were distributed to school board members at the time. Those reports list resignations, retirements, leaves, appointments and other personnel changes.

The name of the coach is not listed in the OCA report. The Day filed a Freedom of Information request Thursday with the school board for more information, including his name, position, termination letter and other documents including complaints filed about him.

The OCA report states that according to state Department of Children and Families records, then-high school Vice Principal Neal Curland gathered information on Dec. 24, 2019, about "inappropriate, sexually harassing behavior by a district-employed coach."

The report states that Curland initially questioned whether to report the incident to DCF, as he was not certain the agency would agree to investigate. The report states he then consulted with a DCF staff member, who advised him to report the information, which he did six days later. State law requires mandated reporters, such as school employees, to report suspected child abuse or neglect within 12 hours of learning of them. OCA stated in its report that best practice is for school employees to report such behavior, not investigate it themselves.

OCA found in its report that the school system's policy regarding mandated reporting of child abuse is not consistent with state law.

DCF then determined that the allegations did not rise to the level of suspected child abuse or neglect and declined to investigate. OCA said, however, that reporting such behavior can lead to information about other incidents of adult sexual misconduct.

According to DCF documents, the coach had been sending inappropriate social media postings to a female student.

"[He] sent a message to the student saying, you look great in your dress today, followed by the fire emoji. He referenced that she looked great twice in the post thread. She responded thanks. He then asked if she would add him to her snapchat account and she replied no offense, I probably shouldn't. He replied, it's only snapchat then asked her why. He then responded 'damn I don't see why not.' He referenced how good she looked in the dress again, asking her if anyone tried to dance with her at the school dance, she responded no and he stated 'they crazy, they probably missed out. I wish I had chaperoned the dance.' She told him the dance was boring. He then says I don't know, maybe I would have (unclear statement)," a DCF document states.

The OCA report states school administrators reported to DCF that the coach "was not very forthcoming" and was fired. Administrators told DCF that the coach was approximately 21 years old, a recent graduate of the school and "may or may not be clear of the ethical role of a coach" and the need to change the way he interacted with community members once he took on that role.

OCA said these statements raised concerns about the lack of training and preparation of certain school district employees.

OCA said U.S. Department of Education Technical Assistance Guide states school districts should have specific policies and codes of conduct regarding adult sexual misconduct, and that those policies should address the use of social media among staff and between staff and students. The guide also states younger teachers may need reinforcement and mentoring regarding the policies and their rationale.

OCA reports states the coach was suspended upon receipt of the complaint in December 2019 and then fired on Dec. 29, 2019. OCA said a review of state certification records indicated the coach had a temporary coaching certificate, valid for one year. It also said the matter was investigated internally by the school system and reported to the Title IX coordinator.

The OCA report states another student, who was 15, then came forward on Jan. 2, 2020, and said the coach also was contacting her through social media, commenting on her postings and following her on Snapchat. The student said she eventually blocked the coach on her social media sites.

School officials also reported this incident to DCF, which declined to investigate, "finding the allegations did not rise to the level of suspected child abuse or neglect by an entrusted caregiver."

The actions of the school system to quickly fire the new coach sharply contrast with those they took toward Chokas, a veteran teacher. The school system's own documents reveal they had received complaints about Chokas inappropriately touching and making sexually charged remarks to girls dating back to at least 2013. He was never fired but allowed to resign in January 2019, after three more girls complained about his actions. The school system reported the 2019 complaint but DCF did not investigate.

Under terms of Chokas' separation agreement, he was paid the remainder of his $81,396 salary through the rest of that school year using accrued vacation time. He also received benefits and assurances from the school system they would not discuss or fire him.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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