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Aide at Upper West Side School Charged With Sexually Abusing Student
P.S. 87 on West 78th Street is one of the city’s most highly regarded public schools. A teacher’s aide at a highly regarded public elementary school in Manhattan was arrested on Friday after an accusation that he had sexually abused a student at the school, the authorities said.
The aide, Gregory Atkins, 56, had worked at Public School 87, on the Upper West Side, since November 2008, the Education Department said. A law enforcement official said a male student had accused Mr. Atkins of having him strip in the school’s bathroom and, at another point, offering money to fondle the boy. But many of the specifics of the case were not available.
It is not the first time Mr. Atkins has been accused of inappropriate behavior with a student. In 2006, when he was working at Middle School 322 in Upper Manhattan, it was recommended that he be disciplined after a student’s mother told investigators that Mr. Atkins gave her son gifts, including a jockstrap. She said he had offered to baby-sit for the boy, noting that he had an extra bedroom, a PlayStation and a computer for the boy to use.
Though the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for schools recommended that he be disciplined, no disciplinary charges were filed.
Efforts to reach Mr. Atkins, who the police said was charged on Friday with sexual abuse, attempted criminal sex act and endangering the welfare of a child, were unsuccessful; no one answered the door at his home. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer.
After Mr. Atkins was arrested, he was suspended without pay, the Education Department said. He was the second elementary school aide to be arrested in a sex case involving students this week. An aide in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was arrested on Monday after investigators said they found videos of him engaging in sex acts with students.
Mr. Atkins’s arrest sent a wave of angst through the community.
“I’m shaking now,” said Larisa Conaty, who said her daughter had attended a class of Mr. Atkins’s. “I thought my baby was safe at school. Now I don’t know. They don’t know about the people working here.”
Another parent, Brian Benson, who has two children in the school, said: “It’s overwhelming. It sets off alarms.”
In the previous case, the mother said Mr. Atkins was constantly “lurking” at the boy’s sports games. The boy and Mr. Atkins told investigators there had been no sexual contact between them.
The Education Department said that because there was no finding that the relationship had been sexual, no disciplinary charges were filed. Mr. Atkins, who has fewer job protections than teachers do, would have been forced to file a grievance with the union if the principal sought to fire him.
The principal of M.S. 322 chose to discuss the allegations with Mr. Atkins and set forth detailed guidelines of appropriate job responsibilities. The principal did this orally rather than putting a letter in Mr. Atkins’s file, education officials said. The report does not indicate whether the police were notified.
Mr. Atkins has worked in the school system since 2001, mostly as a substitute at middle schools. He has worked at schools including P.S./I.S. 187, M.S. 246 and I.S. 218. His annual salary is $33,088.
P.S. 87, which serves prekindergarten through fifth grades on West 78th Street, has long been seen as one of the most desirable public schools in the city.
The principal, Monica Berry, sent a letter home with students on Friday about Mr. Atkins’s arrest, saying that the school learned of the allegation on Feb. 3 and notified the police and the special commissioner of investigations. Mr. Atkins was reassigned to a central office, away from students, at that time.
Noah E. Gotbaum, a member of Community Education Council 3, whose son and daughter graduated from P.S. 87, said Mr. Atkins was a teacher’s aide in his son’s class two years ago, when his son was in third grade.
“If he had been investigated previously, we had absolutely had no knowledge of anything of that sort,” Mr. Gotbaum said. “The gentleman was an aide in the class and all seemed copacetic; it was fine. The kids liked him. We liked him. But if the allegations are true, it is pretty scary and sad.”
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