080619 STN chokas meeting

Parents speak to members of the Board of Education during a special meeting to address concerns regarding the handling of complaints related to the behavior of former teacher Tim Chokas. Cynthia Drummond, The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — About 50 concerned residents sat in the Stonington High School commons Monday to hear the response of Stonington Board of Education officials to complaints about inappropriate behavior by teacher Tim Chokas.

Chokas, 53, a former technology teacher and assistant golf coach, was hired in 2003 and resigned in January after school officials received a complaint that he had behaved in an inappropriate manner with a female student.

Prior to Chokas’ resignation, however, there were additional complaints that he had massaged, tickled and otherwise touched female students.

Chokas was paid his full salary until June 30. The settlement agreement, which has been described as confidential, stipulated that Chokas would not take legal action against the school district. 

At issue is the manner in which school officials responded to the multiple complaints, or, in some cases, whether they responded at all.

There have also been questions about whether the incidents were reported to the Board of Education, the police, or the Department of Children and Families. Principal Mark Friese and Superintendent of Schools Van Riley have defended their handling of the complaints against Chokas.

After emerging from a 50-minute executive session before Monday’s special meeting, board Chair Alexa Garvey explained that Sarah Egan, head of the state Office of the Child Advocate, has requested details of the measures that were taken in response to the complaints. Garvey said her report was not yet complete, but when released it would go first to the school district’s attorney and then to Garvey and Superintendent of Schools Van Riley. 

“The report will be received by our attorney, our Title 19 attorney from Shipman and Goodwin,” she said. “Once the attorney receives that report then she will contact Dr. Riley and myself. There could be further questions, there could be further requests to meet with staff that’s involved. That’s all very likely and possible. Once all those questions have been answered for the Office of the Child Advocate, from there, the Office of the Child Advocate will complete a report. That report will provide complete recommendations.”

Once the board has the report, Garvey said it would prepare a response, or action plan, a process that would involve the entire community, including students.

“We have a lot of stakeholders that should be included in this process, she said. “We have the administration. We have the community. We have parents. Most of all, we have students. All of these people need to be involved in this process in order to make this an effective and comprehensive action plan that everyone can rely on and everyone can trust.”

Only four people spoke during the public comment period, and they had different opinions on the Chokas case.

A parent and former teacher in the district criticized officials for not reporting the complaints to the Department of Children and Families.

“Why was it, when these girls repeatedly spoke out, that DCF was not contacted initially?” she asked. “All teachers, coaches, principals are required to report such activity. That should have been the first course of action. Why was it that Stonington schools could not tell parents and taxpayers that this was done?”

Two women, former students of Chokas, said he had been unfairly maligned.

“I always felt comfortable talking to him and seeing him and I just think that  it’s one thing to take a man’s job from him for the uncomfort [sic] of students, but it’s another thing to slander him around town,” one woman said.

The meeting concluded with a promise that the community would be apprised of developments in the case.

“I want to make sure that it is reiterated that we intend on keeping the community involved in this process and look forward to hearing from you, how you believe we can do that,” Garvey said.

Garvey noted, after the meeting was adjourned, that the board had received no indication of when the Office of the Child Advocate report would be released.

“We were hopeful that we would have the Office of the Child Advocate answers before now, but we don’t have those yet,” she said. “Once we have those, we’ll readily share those. We’re just as anxious as everybody else to get those results so we can begin to take action.”

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