Stonington school board to interview firms Wednesday for Chokas probe

Stonington — The Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday night to interview three firms and possibly select one of them to investigate how school officials handled the years of sexual harassment allegations made against former Stonington High School teacher and coach Timothy Chokas.

The board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. at Pawcatuck Middle School. The agenda also calls for public comment after the board interviews, discusses and possibly selects one of the firms.

The three firms under consideration after being recommended by board members are Joseph A. DeLuca Advisory and Consulting Services of New York City, Paula Anthony of Berchem Moses of Milford and Christine Chinni of Chinni & Meuser of Avon.

The exact scope and cost of the investigation is unknown. As of Dec. 31, 2019, the school system had spent $96,776 on legal fees associated with issues surrounding Chokas. The school system almost has exhausted the $65,000 it set aside for legal fees in the 2019-20 budget, which does not end until June 30. This means that if the school board cannot find the money for the investigation from another portion of its current budget, it may have to ask for an additional appropriation from the Board of Finance.

Meanwhile, the school system is awaiting the results of state Child Advocate Sarah Eagan’s review of the school system’s policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment in the wake of the Chokas controversy.

The numerous complaints against Chokas involve alleged inappropriate touching of and making inappropriate comments to female students. Those who have spoken to The Day say the touching was pervasive, occurred daily and dates back to 2004.

But Superintendent Van Riley and high school Principal Mark Friese testified under oath that the various reports lodged against Chokas by students, referred to in various school documents and emails in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019 and from the girls themselves, were not considered complaints. Instead, Riley and Friese considered them “reports,” “interactions with people” and “concerns” expressed by students and others. These categorizations meant that the complaints were not placed in Chokas’ personnel file. In addition, Chokas was never disciplined for his alleged actions, according to school officials.

In January 2019 a female student complained to staff member that Chokas was touching a female classmate and making inappropriate comments to her. That incident led to Chokas being allowed to resign with his full salary of $81,396 and benefits through the end of the school year. The school system also agreed not to fire Chokas or disclose any information concerning his employment to anyone, except as required by law.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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