New Hartford Community Support for Student Petition
New Hartford Community Support for Student Petition
Why this petition matters
In light of the recent Utica Observer Dispatch article released on March 7th 2022, covering the sexual harassment of a student by a New Hartford High School Teacher, we have decided to create this petition to show our community support on the matter.
We are seeking past & present New Hartford community members signatures on this petition in support of the action items laid out in the petition our student body has created.
*Please note this petition is for the New Hartford Community to sign, but we have chosen to quote below the student petition being circulated to ensure consistency with their message & action items they are requesting*
If you are inclined to share your thoughts on this matter, you can contact the Superintendent's Secretary by phone: (315) 624-1218 or by email: email@example.com. If you have an experience or incident related to this matter or the specific staff members involved, please use this link to file a report under DASA. We also urge New Hartford Community Members to attend the next Board of Education meeting held on April 5th from 6:30pm to 8pm in the High School Library.
We the undersigned New Hartford community members support our student's petition in regards to the recent sexual harassment case.
***Begin New Hartford Senior High School Student Petition***
Petition to Make Our School A Better Place
We, the undersigned students & community of New Hartford Senior High School, are committed to making our school a safe and comfortable learning environment for all students.
Sexual harassment is unacceptable. It should not be tolerated at our school. Students who experience sexual harassment by faculty members or other students should be able to report these incidents to the school and be confident that they will be appropriately addressed. This has not been the experience of many of our fellow Spartans.
On Monday, an article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch brought to light allegations made by a New Hartford student about Mr. Jeffrey Walters, a history teacher at our school. We stand unequivocally with the brave student who came forward and anyone else who has been victimized by Mr. Walters in his decades-long career.
The conversation surrounding the article has brought forward many other New Hartford students sharing their experiences with Mr. Walters and how these incidents have been handled by the administration. All of the issues outlined below come directly from experiences our fellow classmates have had and we know that for every story that has been shared by these victims, there are ten more that have not felt comfortable coming forward.
Students should not be judged on their appearance by adult faculty members. Students should not be subjected to sexually-charged comments from adult faculty members. Students should not have to think about what outfit to wear or not wear on a given day because a teacher might stare at them or make a comment to them about it. Students should not have to warn other students about a teachers pattern of inappropriate behavior in the classroom. Students should not be deciding what classes to take or what clubs to join based on a teachers reputation of misconduct. Students should not be inappropriately touched by their teachers.
Mr. Walters' pattern of disrespect and inappropriate behavior towards his students has made New Hartford Senior High School a worse place, particularly for the students he has victimized. We demand that this school fire Mr. Walters immediately. Every day he is allowed to teach at New Hartford is another day for him to make a student feel uncomfortable and unable to focus on their learning. The administration is complicit in Mr. Walters' actions by allowing him to remain in the building with full knowledge of his behavior.
According to the article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, the student who came forward was touched inappropriately by Mr. Walters on September 29, 2021, and reported the incident to the school that day. Our principal, Mr. Mark Benson, has known about this case since that day - for nearly six months. Yet Mr. Walters is still teaching here.
According to the article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Mr. Benson told the student and her mother on October 5, 2021, that "Walters had admitted to the incident and that the teacher had been placed under a stay-away order." Further, "in a letter to the mother, dated Dec. 6, Benson stated, 'It has been determined that policy 0015 was violated.' The number refers to the district's policy on equal opportunity and prohibition of discrimination and harassment (including sexual harassment)." Yet Mr. Walters is still teaching here.
According to the article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, "despite the stay-away order, there have been several occasions on which the order has been violated, the student said. Walters has approached her and spoken to her and one or two friends who were with her on these occasions." Yet Mr. Walters is still teaching here.
We are not just concerned about the actions of Mr. Walters, but also how those actions have been inadequately addressed by Mr. Benson and the rest of the administration. The article outlines several violations of protocol when handling a situation like this by Mr. Benson that he should also be held accountable for.
According to the article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, "under the district's sexual harassment policy, the district's compliance coordinator should have been notified of any complaints. On Oct. 18, Benson told the student that he hadn't, she said, because he 'wanted to keep the circle tight on this.'"
According to the article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Mr. Benson "refused to assign her a new locker, the student said, even though hers is located close to Walters' classroom, because it would draw too much attention."
According to the article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, "the school missed the deadline in its own policy for completing its investigation and reporting back to the family, [the family's attorney Zachary] Oren said. They should have received a
written report within 30 days of the complaint, but still hadn't heard anything by Nov. 29."
This is a clear cover-up of a serious allegation of sexual harassment in our school. Unacceptable. We have also heard from our classmates that this behavior by Mr. Benson may not be an isolated incident - it has been described as his playbook for dealing with other allegations like this.
We believe the district should take a serious look at Mr. Benson's conduct and enforce meaningful consequences for his actions. At the very least, he owes the victim, her family, and the entire school an apology for his mishandling of the case. New Hartford Central School District Superintendent, Dr. Cosimo Tangorra, also needs to answer serious questions about the way the district has handled this case.
This has gotten so out of hand that Utica National Insurance Company, which holds our district's liability policy, wrote a letter to Dr. Tangorra saying "the district violated the terms of its policy by not reporting the original complaint within 60 days, instead reporting after the notice of claim was received in December." The letter continued saying the company "will not defend Walters because he allegedly participated in 'wrongful acts' that are not within the scope of his job." This has become a liability for the school because of Mr. Walters' actions AND how the issue has been handled by Mr. Benson and other members of the administration. The article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch notes that "what's at stake is taxpayer money because the district could end up having to pay defense costs and judgements itself." But more importantly, what is at stake is the safety and well-being of the students at New Hartford.
We are proud Spartans. The behavior of Mr. Walters, Mr. Benson, and everyone else responsible for allowing him to remain at our school does not represent who we are as a community. It is an embarrassment to New Hartford Schools that this behavior has been allowed to go on for so long, but now that it has come to light publicly (in an article from the Utica Observer-Dispatch that we have barely scratched the surface of in this petition and recommend all those invested in our school read in its entirety) we demand that meaningful actions be taken to address this serious situation.
We, the undersigned, demand that our school:
• Fire Mr. Jeffrey Walters. Immediately.
• Investigate Mr. Mark Benson's conduct and determine what serious consequences he should face for his actions.
• Conduct a sexual harassment seminar with qualified experts on the subject for the entire student body to raise awareness of this serious issue and provide students with the resources to address incidents if they occur.
• Follow its own policies: report complaints of sexual harassment to the district's compliance coordinator and conduct and complete investigations into these incidents and report their conclusions back to victims and their families within 30 days,
• Develop a clearly defined protocol for how to appropriately address teachers who have faced numerous reports of sexual harassment. As the cover-up by Mr. Benson and other school officials has made clear, these issues can not be left up to the discretion of administrators.
• Release a clear, unequivocal, and detailed statement denouncing the behavior of Mr. Walters and apologizing for the way this issue has been handled by the school.
• Do better.
***End Student Petition***