State, not Stonington school officials, seeks to revoke Chokas' teaching certificate
Stonington — The state Department of Education began the process of revoking the teaching certificate of former Stonington High School teacher and coach Timothy Chokas in January after learning he was accused of sexually harassing female students.
Chokas currently holds a valid teaching certificate that expires June 30, 2023. On Tuesday, DOE spokesman Peter Yazbak said the revocation investigation is ongoing.
After a female student accused him of sexual harassment in January 2019, school officials allowed Chokas to resign with full pay and benefits through the end of the school year using accumulated sick time. They also agreed not to discuss his employment or resignation with anyone except as required by law.
They never sought to revoke his teaching certificate despite complaints dating back to at least 2013 that he inappropriately touched female students and made sexually charged remarks to them and a finding from the school system's Title IX coordinator that deemed his actions as sexual harassment.
Details about the effort to revoke his certificate were revealed over the past two weeks as the school system and the state released documents in response to Freedom of Information requests from The Day.
In January, Nancy Pugliese, chief of the DOE's Bureau of Investigations and Professional Practices, requested authority to commence an investigation into the allegations against the 54-year-old Chokas from DOE Commissioner Miguel Cardona.
“The Bureau of Investigations and Professional Practices is in possession of evidence/information that Timothy Chokas has allegedly engaged in inappropriate touching and sexual harassment of high school female students over a multi-year period while teaching and coaching golf at Stonington High School,” Pugliese wrote to Cardona.
She said her information came primarily from personnel documents she received from the school system.
In August 2019, Pugliese sent a Freedom of Information request to Superintendent of Schools Van Riley seeking documents related to Chokas as she wrote her office had recently been provided with information that Chokas had resigned amid allegations of misconduct with students.
Over the past 18 months, The Day has obtained many of the documents provided to Pugliese. The Day recently requested from the school system the same documents it gave to Pugliese. This revealed several documents concerning allegations against Chokas that the school system failed to release to The Day in response to previous FOI requests.
Among these were a preliminary finding by school Title IX coordinator Allison Van Etten in January 2019 that Chokas engaged in conduct that would support a finding of teacher-to-student sexual harassment.
The school system did not provide Pugliese with documents about complaints made about Chokas’ actions toward female soccer players in 2013.
Pugliese also wrote to Cardona that the legal basis for taking certification action against Chokas is that he is professionally unfit to perform the duties granted by his teaching certificate.
Cardona approved Pugliese’s request to investigate a few days later.
The revocation effort was first mentioned in a report by attorney Christine Chinni, whom the school board hired to investigate how school officials handled the allegations against Chokas.
In that report, which was released in September, Chinni wrote that high school Principal Mark Friese had “participated in referring” Chokas to the DOE for revocation of his teaching certificate. In addition, she wrote that it was Friese’s understanding that the DOE did not pursue the revocation in light of a decision by the state Department of Children and Families to not investigate the January 2019 complaint that led to Chokas’ resignation.
Both of Chinni’s findings were incorrect.
In response to questions from The Day, Board of Education attorney Kyle McClain said that neither Friese nor any other Stonington school official filed a referral with the DOE to revoke Chokas’ teaching certificate.
McClain said that Friese did have a conversation with Pugliese in February when she was in Stonington as part of a professional development day for staff. He said they informally discussed the Chokas matter, given its local media coverage and her review of information related to Chokas' teaching certificate.
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