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Assistant principal faces discipline for not reporting abuse claim

Investigators are recommending that the city fire an assistant principal who they concluded had not properly reported a student’s allegation of abuse, then refused to answer their questions about her behavior.

Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon today released a report about an investigation of what happened at Brooklyn’s P.S. 219 in early 2011, when a fifth-grade student told her teacher that male classmates had sexually assaulted her. The teacher followed the school’s procedures in reporting the claim to Assistant Principal Patricia Sabater, but Sabater did not pass the allegations along or act on them. The school’s principal, Winsome Smith, found out about the student’s complaint only after police began an investigation two months later, according to the report.

Condon is recommending that Chancellor Carmen Fariña move to fire Sabater and make her ineligible to work in the school system again. He also recommends penalizing a guidance counselor who he found also did not adequately respond to the student’s allegations.

Condon’s office’s investigations frequently take a long time, but it often fast-tracks investigations into sexual abuse. In this case, a legal tug of war — that the office lost — delayed the investigation’s conclusion until now, according to the report.

The report details a two-year-long saga of trying to get Sabater to testify after she stopped cooperating with investigators. First, SCI obtained a subpoena to compel Sabater to meet with investigators after she declined to do voluntarily. But when she testified, she refused to answer questions, citing a 1999 legal ruling that tenured educators in New York State do not have to answer questions about their conduct. SCI petitioned the courts to force Sabater to testify, but multiple courts refused the request, citing the 1999 precedent. SCI turned to the courts in May 2012 and received its last rejection just last month, according to the report.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Department of Education pressed for more latitude to fire educators accused of sexual abuse themselves. But that push did not result in changes to the educator discipline process.