Worried parents on Monday jammed the auditorium at PS 87 on the Upper West Side in search for answers after a classroom aide was accused of sexually abusing an eight-year-old student in the school building. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
More than 500 parents poured into PS 87 Monday morning with questions for Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and representatives from the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
On Friday, Gregory Atkins, 56, was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a student in the school five times in a single day early this month.
Parents say they spent the weekend trying to answer difficult questions from their young children.
“She asked ‘How can that man do that?’ So it's very upsetting,” said one parent.
But parents’ most pressing question was why nobody at PS 87 knew about the aide's past. In 2006, investigators determined Atkins had an inappropriate relationship with another boy at MS 322 in Washington Heights, where he worked at the time.
That was never noted in his employment file, so administrators at PS 87 likely knew nothing about it when they hired him in 2008.
“Let's look at the loopholes in the system that allowed for this egregious negligence to happen and can we prevent it in the future,” said parent Jane Page.
Those inside the meeting described it as tense, with angry parents repeatedly accusing officials of dropping the ball.
“This should have been picked up at the DOE level, and it wasn't,” said one parent.
The 2006 investigation found Atkins had an inappropriate relationship with a boy, including spending unauthorized time with him in and after school, giving him gifts, including a jockstrap, and inviting him to spend the night. The findings were sent to former Chancellor Joel Klein.
“I can understand their frustration, and definitely a lot of them didn't get answers to the questions they posed, but the accountability rests with me,” said Walcott.
But the DOE also says it was up to the principal to act in 2006. She decided just to talk with Atkins.
“The principal back then made a decision and decided not to put a letter in file. I have to take a look at the policy,” said Walcott.
“The parents are now saying ‘how can you not accept responsibility for this? Why are you putting it on the principals?’” said parent Noah Gotbaum
As the investigations continue, parents say they're talking to their children and hoping that no other allegations come to light.