A teacher terminated last year from the Community Charter School of Paterson claims she was sexually harassed by fifth graders, according to a lawsuit filed in New Jersey Superior Court on Monday.
Denise Kruse, who was hired as a special education teacher in Mar. 2016, was assigned to the charter’s middle school in Feb. 2018 to teach remedial math at a what’s called a “Math Replacement Class” made up of five students. She wasn’t assigned an aide and began experiencing a difficult time controlling the behavior of students, according to the lawsuit.
Students refused to listen and misbehaved. In Apr, 2018, several students began to sexually harass her.
Sexual harassment included: a student calling out he had an erection; coming up behind the teacher and making thrusting motions with the front of their bodies; commenting on her buttocks when she faced the board; and placing their hands in their pants, grabbing their genitals in front of the teacher.
Students also asked if she ever performed oral sex. A student filmed Kruse from behind while she was teaching in classroom and posted it on Snapchat.
Kruse “implored” the student to cease the sexual harassment and complained to school administration. She specifically reported the harassment to the school’s chief executive Curtis Palmore, and administrators Manny Martinez and Catherine Martinez.
Neither took any actions to put a stop to the harassment, according to the lawsuit.
Kruse had been hired to teach second graders with special needs. It’s not clear why she was transferred to teach remedial math.
On May 10, 2018, Kruse went to Palmore’s office and told him she was being harassed by the students.
Palmore questioned her ability to control students in the class, says the lawsuit. He also told her an investigation would be conducted, but nothing was done.
A week later, May 15, 2018, she was notified that her employment contract for 2018-19 would not be renewed. She was never provided a specific reason for the non-renewal.
On May 17, 2018, Palmore sent out an email to all staff members thanking them for their “hard work and service to our families and scholars.”
Kruse was left out of the email.
Her lawsuit also states Palmore, an African-American, hired for $175,000 in Jul. 2017, to lead the school had been involved in creating an environment for teachers “so intolerable” that they’d resign, allowing him to replace them with staff he had worked with as an administrator in the Bronx.
Kruse, who is white, also alleges racism at the school. For example, in a Feb. 2018 meeting with a parent and a special education student, Sylvia Smallwood, an instructional aide, remarked the student needed a black teacher next year because he needs this type of “presence in his life,” according to the lawsuit.
Kruse was offended by the racially discriminatory comment. She did not react to the racist language, but later complained to Chloe Lewis, principal of the school.
Lewis, who is black, told Kruse she misconstrued the comment.
“The Community Charter School of Paterson has a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination. There are systems in place to review these allegations in a fair, systematic, and thorough way,” said Michael De Blasio, president of the board of trustees at Community Charter School of Paterson, on Friday.
Several charter schools in the city have been involved in sexual harassment cases over the past year. For example, the principal of College Achieve Paterson Charter School is accused of sexually harassing a subordinate; the director of the Paterson Arts & Science Charter School resigned earlier in the month after the Paterson Times reported sexual harassment allegations against him.
Before those two cases, the Manuel Martinez, who worked as an administrator for the Community Charter School of Paterson, was accused of sexually harassing a co-worker. The co-worker sued and the charter settled the case by paying $90,000.
Martinez later left the Community Charter School of Paterson and joined the College Achieve Paterson Charter School.
“Children are respective. They see thing and emulate what they see,” remarked former school board member Corey Teague, a critic of charter schools.
Last year, a mother of a 12-year-old boy at the Community Charter School of Paterson, claimed her son was aggressively grabbed by the genitals in class by a female student at the charter’s middle school.