Infuriated parents packed the auditorium of P.S. 87 Monday with questions for Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and representatives from the Manhattan district attorney’s office over the arrest of a teacher’s aide on sex abuse charges.
According to the district attorney’s office, Gregory Atkins, 56, was arrested last Friday on sexual abuse charges for escorting a boy to a bathroom stall atschool on Thursday, Feb. 2. He forced the child to undress and touched the boy’s body. Atkins is charged with an attempted criminal sex act, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.
Atkins has worked for the school system since 2001 as a substitute teacher and paraprofessional, according to the Department of Education (DOE). In 2006, he was investigated for having an inappropriate relationship with a male student at another school in upper Manhattan. Atkins spent unauthorized time with the boy during and after school, gave him gifts and invited him to spend the night.
Those findings were sent to former Chancellor Joel Klein, but no charges were brought against Atkins, according to the DOE. However, they said it was up to the principal to act; the principal decided to just talk with Atkins about the accusation.
Parents demanded to know how a man with a record of inappropriate behavior with children could end up at one of the most competitive elementary schools in the city.
“Are our kids safe here?” shouted one father.
“Yes, your children are safe here,” responded Walcott.
Upset over the 2006 investigation, parents accused DOE officials of dropping the ball.
“I can understand their frustration and definitely a lot of them didn’t get answers to the questions they posed. But the accountability rests with me,” Walcott told reporters outside the school. “The principal back then made a decision and decided not to put a letter in his file. I have to take a look at the policy.”
Walcott said his job is to make sure children are protected. He continued, “I pledge to the parents that I will get back to them on a regular basis-not just about this school, but from a system point of view-as far as if there were gaps there, how those gaps occurred and making sure those gaps don’t repeat themselves.”
Walcott, along with P.S. 87 Principal Monica Berry and the head of the child abuse unit of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, are set to meet with parents. Rachel Laiserin and Rebecca Levey, co-presidents of the school’s parent association, told parents that an Education Department “crisis team” would also be at the school next week. Parents have said they hope no other children were victimized.