Brooklyn school officials face discipline for not reporting abuse claim

Art McFarland reports from the Bronx.
March 6, 2014 3:12:51 PM PST
An assistant principal and a guidance counselor in Brooklyn are facing disciplinary action following an investigation into unreported sexual assaut claims involving 5th graders.

Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard J. Condon released a report detailing the investigation at PS 219 in Brooklyn on Thursday.

"An 11 year old student and a 10 year old student made a complaint to to the teacher that they were being sexually abused by boys at the school," Condon said. The investigation found that Assistant Principal Patricia Sabater and Guidance Counselor Rebecca Shaffren mishandled the complaints and failed to act.

Commissioner Condon says Sabater told them that in the first case, she simply forgot the issue after unsuccessfully reaching the parents by phone, but then the second case came along weeks later.

"We found out that another teacher, in April of the same year, had seen a boy abusing one of these same students and she had reported it to the same Assistant Principal, and the Assistant Principal didn't report that either," Condon said.

The Department of Education issued a statement, saying: "We have zero tolerance for educators who put our children at risk - and the findings of this report are deeply disturbing. We plan to seek termination of the assistant principal and will take appropriate disciplinary action against the guidance counselor."

According to investigators, the first student, who was 10 when the abuse began, had been having problems since the beginning of the school year in 2010. The student said 2 male students had touched her inappropriately and on one occasion, they approached her from behind at pulled down her pants.

She first reported the problems in October 2010, saying that she wrote a letter to Shaffren detailing the misconduct. She reported more abuse in November, and wrote another letter. She said as the abuse continued, she continued to report the problems to Sabater, Shaffren or her teacher over the next 3 months. Investigators said the girl eventually stopped making complaints, frustrated over the lack of response.

In March 2011, the girl received a text message from one of the boys and "broke down" and told her mother about the situation. The girl's parents eventually went to police, who began investigating the complaints.

Around the same time, officials say another fifth-grade student told the same teacher that male classmates had assaulted her. Special Commissioner Condon says the teacher followed procedures in reporting the claim to Sabater, but Sabater did not act on them. The school principal only found out after police began investigating the claims of the first girl two months later, according to the report.

Condon recommended to the chancellor that Sabater's employment be terminated and that appropriate disciplinary action be taken against Shaffren, who he found did not adequately respond to the initial allegations.

The Special Commissioner also referred the findings to Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson.