July 30, 2009

Teacher with history of reprimands quits

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Bowdish Middle School teacher Anthony Cucinotti, who was put on paid administrative leave in March after misconduct allegations, has quit his job.

The recent allegations of inappropriate behavior are only the latest for Cucinotti, who has taught sixth grade and middle school in the district since 1992. Documents released by the district in response to a public records request show Cicinotti has received eight verbal and written warnings since 1993 for losing his temper with students and inappropriate contact with female students.

The most recent incident involved allegations that Cucinotti snapped the bra strap of a female student and became angry and hostile in class when another student misbehaved. Several students said they saw him snap the girl’s strap; in an interview with district and union representatives, Cucinotti said he only tapped the girl on her back, according to district documents.

After Cucinotti resigned in early June, Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small signed a settlement allowing him to receive full pay and benefits until Oct. 31. He also will receive compensation for 28 days of unused sick leave.

The district planned to fire Cucinotti but agreed to the resignation and settlement to avoid an appeal of the termination, Small said. Teachers receive full pay and benefits during any appeal process.

“Even if we have an iron, locked case, you could be in the appeal process for two or three years,” he said.

The settlement includes the text of a letter that will be sent to anyone inquiring about Cucinotti’s work history, including prospective new employers. The brief letter includes a summary of his teaching positions and then states that his “attendance was satisfactory” and he “resigned from his employment for personal reasons.”

Small said the letter is standard. “Our references are to verify employment,” he said.

Cucinotti did not return messages seeking comment. In the interview with district representatives, he said that he felt “picked on” by the former Bowdish principal but that he repressed his angry feelings and became depressed, according to district documents. He told interviewers he was taking medication for a “chemical imbalance” and was in counseling. He said if his efforts didn’t improve his behavior he needed to “walk away.”

According to documents, students and staff over the years have reported that Cucinotti appeared to look down girls’ shirts and often yelled and got angry. Several parents asked that their children be removed from his classroom because of his behavior. Letters of reprimand show he was repeatedly counseled to maintain a professional relationship with students. He was also required to attend anger management counseling and sexual harassment training, the documents show.

In 2003, a teacher reported seeing a female student sitting on Cucinotti’s lap. Another teacher said she had to lock her door to stop Cucinotti from coming into her classroom every day to visit several female former students, whom he called his “muffins.”

On Feb. 8, 2006, Cucinotti was placed on paid administrative leave after reading a sexually explicit short story to his eighth-grade science class. During that investigation two students said Cucinotti had asked several female students if they had been naughty and needed to be spanked, documents show.He received a letter of reprimand that ordered him to maintain a professional relationship with students and attend sexual harassment training. He returned to work Feb. 20, 2006, after 12 days on leave.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, which can suspend or terminate teacher certifications, launched an investigation in March 2006. In March 2008, then-Superintendent Mike Pearson sent OSPI a letter asking that the investigation “be held in abeyance indefinitely” because Cucinotti had “demonstrated complete compliance with the district’s directives and … there have been no further concerns in the two years that have elapsed since my reporting to the state.”

Standard practice is to complete any investigation, said Charles Schreck, director of the OSPI Office of Professional Practices.

“We would not stop an investigation based on that request,” he said. OSPI closed its investigation in May 2008, issuing an “agreed order of reprimand,” the lowest level of disciplinary action possible.

Jay Rowell, assistant superintendent of human resources and operations, said he doesn’t know why Cucinotti was allowed to continue teaching despite the multiple reprimands. “There’s no way to answer that,” he said. “We weren’t here. I wasn’t part of those investigations.”

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