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Child advocate nears completion of Chokas review, will delay delivery of report

Stonington — State Child Advocate Sarah Eagan said Thursday that her office’s review of how school officials handled the allegations against former teacher Timothy Chokas “is near completion” but she will delay the delivery of her draft report to the school board due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just doesn’t make sense to deliver a draft report to a local agency mired in crisis management," she said, adding that “realistically, we have to give folks a real chance to navigate their way through this crisis before responding.”

She said her office is navigating the same dynamic with many of its pending reviews, with most of its resources “engaged in crisis advocacy, as are the school districts and other state agencies that are the subject of different investigations that OCA has been conducting.”

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. Eagan is conducting a review of the Stonington school district’s policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment, whether they were followed and what improvements are needed.

A review of the policies and procedures by The Day in January shows administrators repeatedly failed to follow their own requirements when handling the numerous complaints against Chokas. That same month, school officials outlined a number of steps it had taken to update its sexual harassment policies and procedures in light of the controversy.

Attorney Christine Chinni, who was hired by the Board of Education to conduct an independent investigation into how the allegations were handled, began her probe four weeks ago. She could not be reached for comment Thursday about whether the pandemic has impacted her investigation, which is expected to take two or more months to complete.

Eagan launched her review shortly after The Day began publishing a series of stories about the complaints in June 2019.

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 school documents and emails in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019 and from the girls themselves, were not considered complaints but “reports” and “concerns.” This meant complaints were not placed in Chokas’ personnel file.

Chokas was never disciplined for his alleged actions. In January 2019, a female student complained to a 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 district also agreed not to fire him or disclose any information concerning his employment to anyone, except as required by law.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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