UV fights decision to return accused teacher to classroom

NEW BERLIN – The Unadilla Valley Board of Education is appealing a decision by the New York State Department of Education that would allow the return of a suspended teacher accused of sexually harassing seventh grade girls.

The appeal, which is a civil lawsuit, was filed with the Chenango County Supreme Court Oct. 8. In the documents, school officials claim the employee remains a risk to female students and a liability to district taxpayers.

The Chenango County Clerk’s Office released 30 pages of the 250-page appeal shortly after it was filed. They included two documents, a memorandum of law and a notice of claim, in which the school’s attorney and superintendent summarized the two-year-old case and the district’s allegations.

The tenured social studies teacher at the center of the case, Bruce McGowan, declined comment after being contacted at his home in South New Berlin last week.

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Senior Counsel James Bilik, who has represented McGowan throughout the issue, said Friday the district’s claims would not stand up in court.

“Bruce will vigorously defend against the lawsuit,” said Bilik.

UV School Board President William J. Lyons confirmed McGowan was still receiving his full salary and benefits since being placed on immediate leave Feb. 7, 2008. On that day, an internal district investigation revealed a 31-page report detailing allegations of sexual harassment involving two dozen female students.

“He (the investigator) found that the teacher engaged in numerous acts of inappropriately touching and behavior involving approximately 25 female students over a period of three years that rose to the level of sexual harassment,” stated the memorandum.

Superintendent Robert Mackey describes McGowan as “a younger teacher” who had worked for the district since September 2000.

Mackey said the investigation “began before Thanksgiving” in 2007 and concluded in January 2008 after two students approached the middle school principal. The notice of claim reported the “district received numerous complaints from 7th grade female students regarding McGowan’s behavior towards them while he was filling in as a coach on their volleyball team,” during the 2007-2008 school year.

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