Parents Claim Clemente Teacher Abused Kids

When students got an answer wrong in class, their 3rd-grade teacher at Clemente Leadership Academy would curse, throw books and “yell and scream” that the kids “did not know how to read,” according to a lawsuit filed by four students’ families.

The suit was filed in state Superior Court on Aug. 26 against a former 3rd-grade teacher at Clemente Leadership Academy, a public K-8 neighborhood school at 360 Columbus Ave. in the Hill. Attorney Patty Cofrancesco filed the suit on behalf of four students and their moms and grandmas.

The suit alleges that Principal Pam Franco, the City of New Haven, and the Board of Education allowed “an unrelenting pattern of verbal and physical abuse” in the teacher’s 3rd-grade classroom at Clemente last school year.

The teacher was placed on paid administrative leave “as soon as the allegation came to light,” according to school district spokeswoman Abbe Smith. He resigned effective June 30, 2013 according to personnel records. He taught for seven years.

Franco, the school district, and Renaissance School Services, the private company that manages the public school, all declined to comment on the suit, citing pending litigation.

The alleged behavior lasted from October 2012 until Feb. 6, 2013, according to the suit.

Whenever the students failed to answer a question, got the answer wrong, or didn’t complete their homework, the teacher would: “get in the face” of the students and “yell and scream” that the students “did not know how to read.”

The teacher also “tore up folders and threw them” at the kids; kicked desks, and threw other objects, such as “books, pens, markers, rulers and a small white board,” the suit alleges.

The teacher also “slammed books on his desk,” cursed under his breath, and “threw a desk at the back of the classroom” narrowly missing a student.

The behavior constituted “assault,” the suit concludes, because the teacher “intended to cause harmful or offensive contact” with the students, and put the students at risk of such contact.

As a result, the four students “suffered anxiety, emotional distress, depression, sleeplessness, reduced interest in school, and aggression towards family members and third parties,” the suit claims. The abuse drove students to seek prescription medications and medical care, and left them needing such treatment in the future.

One student also suffered suicidal thoughts, causing him to need inpatient and outpatient hospitalization, according to the suit. (The Independent is withholding the kids’ names to protect their privacy.)

The teacher should have known that berating the students would cause “harassment, intimidation and fear,” the suit alleges.

The suit claims abuse and “negligent infliction of emotional distress.”

It accuses the teacher of violating the Connecticut State Department of Education Code of Responsibility for Educators, Sec. 10-145d-400a of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, which prohibits teachers from harassing, abusing and mistreating students.

The suit also claims Principal Franco “knew, or should have known” of the abuse and neglected to do anything. And it places blame on the city and school board for allowing the behavior to continue.

In the suit, the students’ moms and grandmothers seek over $15,000 in compensation for money spent on their students’ medical care.


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posted by: JohnTulin on September 26, 2013  12:37pm

This is clearly more than an issue with a bad teacher - this person is obviously nuts.  Who throws desks??  This is one of those private, charters - what is their hiring procedures?  Are their teachers certified?  We need background on the teacher to understand how they even got near a classroom.  This is just nuts on so many levels.

posted by: IraJohnson on September 26, 2013  1:39pm

I have worked at the particular school for 8 years, prior to it being taking over, and yes the kids were challenging, like I said kids, but to yell and scream and curse at these children, “Our Children” is totally wrong. Regardless what this teacher should of had a little self control

posted by: Brutus2011 on September 26, 2013  1:50pm

First thing I think of is that discipline to maintain order by a parent, or a teacher, is an affirmative defense to the tort of assault if it is not abusive.

Second thing I think of is how, at least in my experience, many parents today think their kids can do no wrong and their child always tells the truth. (famous last words—“I would never lie about something like that,” or “I swear on my Mother,” etc., etc.)

It is my experience that many kids lie to keep from getting in trouble. The kids also know how to play the adults off of each other.

Also, many parents see the BOE as an easy target to get a settlement check as it is easier to write a check for 2-3 thousand than go through expensive litigation.

Frankly, I find these allegations to likely be specious and exaggerated.

So, here we seemingly have eight-year old kids being brought to bear to squeeze some cash out of the BOE. This could be seen as a disturbing new wrinkle on children exploited as income generating units.

I think the BOE should take a stand and NOT settle this case. If summary judgement is not granted then take it to trial and get all the facts out to the public. Then petition the court to have the Plaintiffs pay all costs—that will send a message that frivolity in this kinds of things bears a tough consequence.

I have never seen a teacher behave as described here. But I have seen teacher’s conduct such that it can be magnified out of all proportion so that it looks almost criminal. And of course the highly paid NHPS and Renaissance administrators are running for cover on this. All of which I am sure is part of the Plaintiff’s calculus in bringing this action.

Reminds me of a line in the movie, “Street Kings” with Forest Whitaker and Keanu Reeves.

Whitaker’s character tells Reeves character that, “It is not what it is that counts, it is what it looks like.”

Finally, this highlights one of the reasons our schools are out of control.

posted by: duncanidaho645 on September 26, 2013  6:31pm

I used to work at Clemente when this went down.  The teacher in question was in fact very tough on his students and more importantly, he was tough on the PARENTS. 

The allegations presented here are extremely exaggerated, and unfortunately this is all it takes to make the board of ed crap their pants.  Instead of suspending the teacher why not investigate this and keep a better eye on his classroom.  Maybe do the job that they’re paid to do for once? 

When I was still working there and after this incident I had numerous parents come up to me to talk about this.  Most would ask me to thank this teacher if I saw him again.  Because he would push the kids to do better academically and to become better people in general.  Well it looks like it’s back to the ususal for the teachers, keep your head down and let the students walk all over you.

posted by: Art Vandelay on September 26, 2013  7:06pm

Time for this teacher to seek another profession.  Teaching requires special skills that cannot be taught in college or through the state Certification program.  This particular teacher is not doing his students any favors by staying in the classroom.  Teaching is no for everyone.

posted by: nhaventeacher on September 26, 2013  9:32pm

While I would not condone the specific accusations, these incidents are obviously exaggerated.  Can’t we hear about all of the amazing things happening in the district instead of all of the “alleged” behaviors of a few teachers.

posted by: Trustme on September 27, 2013  10:28am

Well said Brutus.

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on September 27, 2013  11:04am

Here’s the problem with those saying Principal Franco “should have known”. According to the administrators I have spoken with, they are so bogged down with mandatory BOE paperwork and meetings that they rarely have time to visit classrooms to monitor their teachers. That should be changed immediately, and they should be required to check in on them (and survey the students) every month or so. My daughter currently has a teacher who is cooperative and sweet to administrators and parents, but almost mean to the students. So not every visit will allow someone to see the true demeanor of the teacher. But there should be failsafes installed right away, to prevent this or anything like this from happening.