Skip to comments.Dangerous teachers - Bad apples find ways into school – and put kids at risk
Posted on 03/01/2005 5:11:03 PM PST by gidget7
Dover's police chief called teacher James Risi ``a poster boy for pedophiliac behavior'' and helped drive him out of his toney town's schools, but after he left, the boys and girls of Brockton and Chelsea called him something else: their teacher.
``It was the one thing we had all been promised, that he would never get another teaching job,'' said the mother of the 9-year-old Dover girl whom Risi traumatized. ``This is just so sad on so many levels.''
Doctors ultimately said Risi had no sexual interest in children, but the state found his record disturbing enough to eventually revoke his teaching license.
A Herald investigation found 10 disgraced teachers who hid or otherwise overcame their records to teach, and sometimes abuse, again.
Teachers continue to evade safeguards meant to protect children from repeat offenders because:
Reference checks on prospective teachers aren't always done thoroughly.
Private and public schools don't communicate with each other about problem teachers.
Arbitrators and superintendents sometimes give questionable teachers a second chance.
``It's called the mobile molester syndrome,'' said Nan Stein, a Wellesley College researcher and expert on child sexual abuse in schools.
Code word Snuggles
The first time the Dover mother met Risi, she thought nothing about how he seemed more comfortable with kids than adults. He was, she recalled, a ``brilliant'' fourth-grade teacher. She was excited her daughter was in his class during the 1996-97 school year.
She certainly thought it was strange that he wanted a picture of her little girl in her Easter dress. She didn't give him one, but let the odd request pass.
Now, she says: ``You have to listen to that little voice.''
But she didn't then, and unknown to her, records show, Risi was embarking on a secretive and cloying relationship with her daughter. He told her he loved her almost every day by using a code word, ``Snuggles.''
He also gave her gifts, including a teddy bear embroidered with ``Snuggles'' on it, and called her repeatedly, records show.
Dover Police Chief Joseph G. Griffin doesn't call Risi a pedophile, but said the way he courted the girl is similar to how a molester grooms a child, singling her out and showering her with affection.
``You talk about pedophiliac behavior, he was one of the poster children,'' Griffin said.
No evidence was found that the girl was physically molested, and Risi was never charged. A psychologist and psychiatrist both examined Risi and concluded he wasn't sexually attracted to children.
But his secretive entreaties had a profound effect on the girl. She changed from a bubbly and athletic youngster into a neurotic pre-teen who was deathly afraid of being alone.
She was eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and treated for depression.
No further complaints surfaced about Risi from his time teaching in Brockton and Chelsea public schools. Nevertheless, an administrative magistrate in April 2002 recommended that the state Department of Education revoke Risi's teaching certificate, saying he attempted to form an inappropriate relationship with the Dover girl.
Risi's lawyer, Michael J. McHugh, denied Risi acted inappropriately with the girl.
``He respectfully disagrees with these findings,'' McHugh said.
Insiders like national school employment law expert Dean Pickett call it ``passing the trash,'' shuffling problem teachers from one district to another. To combat the practice, the state Department of Education in 2001 began requiring districts to report educator abuse.
``We changed our regulations in 2001 as an indication of where we felt something had to be done statewide, to show how serious this is,'' said Education Commissioner David Driscoll.
But private schools are not obligated to report bad teachers and don't have to check with the DOE before hiring. It's a gap that has led to disastrous consequences.
A preventable crime?
Middleboro public school officials say they had no idea when they hired Gregory Pathiakis in November 2002 to teach high school math that he had ever worked at Pope John XXIII in Everett, let alone that he had been forced out after just six weeks for, the school said, maintaining links to racist material on his Web site. Parents have told the Herald he fraternized too closely with students.
They didn't learn of his old job until after his arrest on charges he raped a 15-year-old former student. The boy and his mother are outraged that Pathiakis was able to work at all.
``Do they think this is a game?'' she asked. ``We're talking about a sexual assault that could have been prevented.''
Gaps in the system
Just weeks before the alleged statutory rape, Pathiakis had resigned under a cloud from Middleboro for what the school said was inappropriate electronic communication with students. Despite that, Pathiakis was able to work as a Brockton High substitute on Jan. 5, the district confirmed. He is awaiting trial on statutory rape charges.
He was later charged with possession of child pornography for material police found on his computer's hard drive. His lawyer, Robert Jubinville, said most of those charges will be dropped.
Jubinville denied the statutory rape charge, saying the youth's credibility was questionable because, he said, the youth has told police two different versions of their encounter.
``Now the kid has two stories and they're diametrically opposed,'' Jubinville said.
The Herald interviewed the Middleboro mother of another high schooler whom Pathiakis tutored at home. Brockton detectives told her, she said, that pornographic images of her son were found on Pathiakis' computer.
``He was devastated,'' the mother said. ``He looked at me and said, `Mom, I don't know how he got those pictures.' ''
She said the school never told her that Pathiakis had resigned under fire. So he kept tutoring her child in her home almost until he was arrested.
Jubinville said he had no knowledge of the mother's complaint.
It all could have been prevented if Middleboro had been warned of Pathiakis' record and not hired him. But an administrator at the Everett private school said their only recourse was to report it to the police, which they did.
``There's no clearinghouse where we could have put something up on our Web site and say do not hire this man,'' said Pope John Vice Principal Mary Anne DeMarco.
The gaps in the system that allowed Pathiakis to teach, coach and tutor helped Joseph Doyle continue working even after he was forced to resign from St. Sebastian's Day School in Needham for throwing a booze bash for students in 1988, the school said.
But in 2003 he was a Natick High School history teacher and hockey coach. That May, police say, he tried to set up a sex romp with ``Brad,'' a 14-year-old he met on the Internet. ``Brad'' was actually a New Hampshire police officer, though, and Doyle is awaiting trial for attempted felonious assault.
States share information about disgraced public school educators through a national clearinghouse. But that system leaves out private schools, said Roy Einreinhofer, head of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification.
``If someone loses their right to teach in a public school they can go to a private school, and that's the last thing they want,'' he said.
Dover is one of the wealthiest towns in MA, just for context. Natick is up there too.
Yes I know, criminal isn't it?? also it's got the most Liberals, no coincidence I am sure!
I grew up in Needham and Dover is really the top along with Wellesley. But Natick? Times must have changed.
I left Mass. for good in 1991, but my top towns would have been Dover, Wellesley, Sherborn, Weston, Lincoln and Concord/Lexington. Natick always seemed middle class.
The sad fact is that background checks are not routinely performed in martial arts studios and other sports and arts performance studios.
Then there is the problem of putting children on trial for reporting a molestation. While alleged perpetrators are entitled to their day in court, the victims are forced to experience the abuse again and again.