MULLICA TOWNSHIP — Both sides at a packed school board meeting agreed Wednesday night that the two students who told a kindergarten teacher they had been having sex in a classroom bathroom were not naked when she found them, even though a police report says they were.
About 200 people came to the meeting, and the vast majority were there to support teacher Kelly Mascio, who is also a township resident. She has been suspended with pay since the Sept. 30 incident.
But officials refused to follow demands of the crowd to reinstate her.
A copy of the tenure complaint against Mascio, of Mullica Township, released under an Open Public Records Act request Wednesday, revealed that the board has certified tenure charges brought by Superintendent Brenda Harring-Marro and is moving to fire Mascio.
“My opinion is tonight that Kelly be brought back to work now,” said Mayor Jim Brown, who said he usually stays out of school board business. “If you don’t put it to bed now, it will take many, many years to get to healing.”
Mascio’s former student Brandon Cheatham called Mascio “great, caring and loving” and encouraged her reinstatement, as did about 15 other speakers.
“It’s so distrubing. I could not understand why this teacher is being punished so severely,” said Mullica resident Terry Kruger. “The morale at the elementary and middle schools must be at an all time low.”
According to the tenure complaint, Mascio is accused of engaging in “conduct unbecoming a teaching staff member” on Sept. 30, by failing to properly supervise her kindergarten students.
The charges specify that about 1 p.m. Mascio took a group of eight students who had finished a benchmark assessment test in the library back to her room to watch a movie, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” The group was seated on a carpet watching the film, when an aide brought another six children into the room, the complaint said.
Mascio was seated with them on a carpeted area in front of her desk, but failed to supervise them properly, according to the document.
It alleges that a boy and girl, at separate times, left the carpeted area and went to the back of the classroom where they entered the single bathroom and remained together. “While in the bathroom, Student A and Student B admit that they removed their clothes and touched each others ‘private parts,’“ according to the complaint.
The tenure complaint further states: “Mascio did not realize two of her kindergarten students were missing for at least approximately (5) five minutes.”
Another student told Mascio the two were in the bathroom, the report said, and when the students came out of the bathroom the boy had his shirt on backward. When Mascio asked them what they were doing, the girl said “well, he wanted to have sex with me” and the boy said “hers wanted to have sex with me.”
Mascio’s response to the charges, filed by her attorney Michael C. Damm of Selikoff and Cohen of Mount Laurel, stressed that she has never been accused of any deliberate wrongful act, and says “what happened was the result of anomolies that occurred that day and students who chose to violate her established rules and procedures.”
Damm’s statement said Mascio has had only good evaluations for 16 years, with no disciplinary actions against her. “What occurred in her classroom on September 30, 2013, was an aberration, something that could not have been anticipated,” it said.
It goes on to say Mascio was shocked to learn after the incident that there was a similar incident last year involving one of the students while in pre-kindergarten. Mascio was never informed of this by anyone, the statement said.
”Had she been aware of this, extra precautions could have been taken,” it said.
Damm’s statement also said that the state Department of Children and Family’s Institutional Abuse Investigation unit investigated and found no wrongdoing by Mascio.
The 16-year veteran teacher has been suspended with pay since the incident Sept. 30, and now her case goes to a state arbitrator.
A police report on file with Mullica Township Police had stated that the two children were found naked in the bathroom, but both sides agreed that wasn’t true Wednesday night.
It is not clear why the police report, with statements by Principal Matthew Mazzoni, contained misinformation and why it was never corrected, representatives of both sides said.
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