Troubling pattern in multiple school scandals involving sexual misconduct

The Connecticut Office of Child Advocate will be taking a close look at another local school system to determine if female students received adequate protection when allegations of misconduct — in this case inappropriate physical contact — were presented to administrators.

It is good to again see the child advocate stepping in as an objective evaluator of what happened, but unfortunate that it must do so.

Reporting by Day Staff Writers Joe Wojtas and Benjamin Kail, and the willingness of courageous young women to speak up about their experiences, unearthed misconduct that school officials in Stonington would rather have remained hidden from the general public.

The Day’s reporting detailed how four female Stonington High School students had complained to school officials in 2017 about improper conduct by Timothy Chokas, a high school technology and media teacher and assistant golf coach. The students said Chokas made them uncomfortable by rubbing their shoulders or necks, placing his hands on their thighs and in other ways invading their personal space.

Yet it was not until this past January, a month after school officials received yet another complaint regarding inappropriate contact with a female student in his classroom, that Chokas resigned. His departure came without explanation by the school and included a confidential settlement awarding him his $81,396 salary and health insurance. No reference to any complaints were found in Chokas’ personnel file, obtained by The Day through a Freedom of Information request.

Since publication of The Day stories, more former students have come forward alleging the same kinds of inappropriate behavior by Chokas, some going back several years.

As Child Advocate Sarah Eagan noted in an interview with The Day, the newspaper’s reporting raises questions as to how the school administration responded to the complaints from multiple girls, whether it had prior knowledge of potential misconduct predating 2017, why the teacher remained in place until 2019 and whether the legal mandate to report reasonable suspicion of abusive behavior to the Department of Children and Families or police was ignored.

As our readers know, there has been a series of reports over the past year involving allegations of sexual misconduct by educators and coaches against female students in our local schools. What is emerging is a troubling pattern. School officials try to handle the matters in-house and avoid the embarrassing and scandalous information from becoming publicly known. Those alleged of inappropriate activity are given warnings and second chances. The reporting requirement is not followed.

At Norwich Free Academy a report that a part-time coach was having sexual relations with a student-athlete was met with a superficial internal investigation and a warning.

“We gave him a smack in the ass and told him to knock it off,” Assistant Campus Safety Director Stephany Bakoulis later told investigating police.

But the coach, Anthony Facchini, did not knock it off and allegedly had a sexual affair with a second student, who was 16 at the time.

Facchini faces two felony sexual assault charges and his trial is pending.

Additionally, NFA Director of Campus Security Kevin Rodino is charged with failing to report suspected abuse, interfering with a police investigation, tampering with evidence and making a false statement.

In New London, where the Office of Child Advocate also is investigating, three employees have been arrested involving allegations of sexual abuse of students. Corriche Gaskin, a behavioral specialist who worked closely with students at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, faces multiple charges involving his alleged sexual relations with a student and with sharing sexually explicit cellphone videos he recorded.

After Gaskin’s arrest the investigation expanded. Jevon Elmore, a paraprofessional at the middle school and a high school track coach, has been charged with second-degree sexual assault. Melissa Rodriguez, a former teacher at Bennie Dover, is charged with failing to report abuse.

Several other employees have been suspended at both NFA and New London schools in connection with the scandals.

As at NFA and Stonington, there are questions in New London as to who knew what and when and why action wasn’t taken sooner.

Given the events of the past year, this must be seen as a pervasive problem. School officials need to display zero tolerance for such behavior. Complaints should be taken seriously, and students and their families informed as to how their case is being handled.  Outside authorities should be notified as required by law.

Our young people should not have to face being taken advantage of by the people paid to educate them.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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