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Stonington school board begins evaluation of Superintendent Van Riley

Stonington -- The Board of Education will begin its annual review of Superintendent of Schools Van Riley on Tuesday night with an executive session.

The evaluation comes after a more than year-long controversy over how Riley, high school Principal Mark Friese and other administrators and staff members handled the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against former high school teacher and coach Timothy Chokas.

Some residents have called on the school board to fire Riley over his handling of the complaints against Chokas, who was allowed to resign in January 2019 after another female student complained about his behavior. None of the many complaints by female students that date back to at least 2013 were ever placed in Chokas’ personnel file.

As the school board undertakes its review of Riley, it is awaiting two reports on the subject -- an independent investigation being done for the school board by attorney Christine Chinni of how school officials handled the allegations and a review by the state Office of the Child Advocate of whether school officials followed their own polices and procedures regarding the complaints against Chokas. A review by The Day has found those policies were not followed.

Board of Education Chairwoman Alexa Garvey said Monday that after Tuesday’s closed-door session, which will not include Riley, the board will complete its written evaluation of him.

The board will then meet with Riley to review the evaluation before approving it and releasing it to the public. The board will also vote on whether to give Riley a raise and extend his contract so he continues to have a three-year deal. He currently earns $200,700 annually after receiving a 2 percent raise last summer.

Garvey said she hopes to have the evaluation complete by the end of July. She said she also expects to have Chinni’s report by then so that information can be considered in relation to the evaluation.

Last summer the school board gave Riley a glowing review in its evaluation, which was completed 11 days before The Day began publishing a series of stories about how Riley, Friese and other school officials have handled the allegations against Chokas.

Many former students have told The Day that Chokas repeatedly touched female students inappropriately and made inappropriate comments to them dating back to 2004. Many others have posted their complaints about Chokas and school officials on their Facebook and Instagram pages, the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page and in online comments on the numerous stories The Day has published about the controversy.

Earlier this month, the school board’s student representative, high school senior Alexandra Kapell, told school board members that “Stonington High School has a massive problem with sexual assault and harassment.”

“The culture here emboldens predators to act and often discourages young girls who report. To my knowledge, there are little to no resources readily available to students who may be victims of assault despite students asking the administration to provide said resources,” said Kapell, who is also the student government president and had urged the school board to undertake the independent investigation earlier this year.

But Riley and Friese have 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, were not considered complaints but “reports” and “concerns.” This meant complaints were not placed in Chokas’ personnel file and he was never disciplined.

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.


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