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Newton parents, officials to discuss teacher's arrest on child pornography charges

Posted by Evan Allen  September 3, 2013 12:15 PM

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Newton parents will meet tonight with school and city officials at F.A. Day Middle School to discuss the arrest last week of sixth grade math teacher Steven Chan, who was charged with possessing and disseminating child pornography.

Chan, 57, who pleaded not guilty in Newton District Court on Friday, allegedly downloaded thousands of sexually explicit images, some of girls as young as four years old. There is no indication that any of the images were homemade, according to prosecutors, or that any featured Newton children.

At Chan’s arraignment Friday, assistant prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said that police had not yet examined all the material found on Chan’s computers, and that additional charges may be sought. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office said she had no new information about the case.

Chan, who in addition to teaching at Day was the Newton North High School gymnastics coach, is the second Newton teacher in 18 months to be charged with child pornography.

Early this year, former Underwood Elementary School teacher David Ettlinger was sentenced to 45 years in prison for his role in an online child pornography ring, after his arrest in January 2012. That same month, 47-year-old Peter Buchanan, a city employee who had worked part time in the Newton Library’s audio visual section, was charged with possession of child pornography in an unrelated case.

On Friday, Newton Police Chief Howard Mintz said there is no apparent connection between the allegations against Chan and Ettlinger’s crimes.

As Newton students return to school today, the district planned to have guidance counselors and school psychologists on hand to talk and provide comfort.

Marcello Mastroianni, who came to Day to pick up his 13-year-old daughter from her first day of eighth grade on Tuesday afternoon, said the news about Chan, who he described as a “real nice guy, down to earth,” came as a total shock.

“Most of the kids liked him,” said his daughter, who had Chan two years ago. “He was kind of like the favorite teacher in the sixth grade.”

Chan was cool, she said, with a goofy sense of humor. Students who had problems knew they could talk to him, she said, and he would help them out.

Chan is currently on paid administrative leave, according to Superintendent David Fleishman, and will be terminated at a meeting next week, unless he resigns first.

On Tuesday, parents and school officials were grappling with the question of what else the schools could have done to screen Chan out. Fleishman said the district will review its hiring practices to make sure there was nothing they missed; Chan had no criminal record, so regular reviews of his criminal history never turned up anything suspicious.

Fleishman said that administrators had combed through Chan's personnel record looking for clues, and had called former principals and supervisors, but found nothing. And since Chan's arrest, no one in Newton has come forward to report any untoward behavior in the past, Fleishman said, though the district is actively seeking information.

Newton mother Lynne LeBlanc, whose son had Chan, said that news of Chan’s arrest did not make her question the city’s hiring procedures, saying the district generally does a good job, but that it did make her wonder how the complaint process works.

When Ettlinger was arrested, his school record showed no serious complaints about him, but as news of his crimes spread, people began coming forward to say they had problems with him in the past. Chan’s school record shows no serious complaints, according to district officials.

LeBlanc said she knows parents who complained about Ettlinger and were shocked to find that their complaints never made it into his record.

“What I think it indicates is that there needs to be a way to track complaints. And it makes me wonder whether complaints are being lodged permanently,” said LeBlanc. “I think that’s the issue. And so my question would be, is [Chan’s] record clean because there have been no complaints, or is his record clean because there were complaints, but they weren’t in his permanent file?”

Fleishman said that all complaints are investigated, and anything serious, or anything that suggests a pattern of behavior, is entered into a teacher's record.

Tonight’s meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at F.A. Day Middle School at 21 Minot Place in Newton. Parents will have a chance to ask questions and hear from both law enforcement authorities and mental health experts.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen

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