Teacher Found Guilty

Susan Rosenbaum | August 27, 1998

A tenured physical education teacher who worked in the East Hampton schools for almost 10 years has been found guilty of five out of 12 charges of misconduct, including several of a sexual nature, involving children under 14.

In a decision dated Aug. 7, a hearing officer recommended, however, that the district reassign the instructor, Jeffrey Yusko of Wainscott, to the classroom after 60 days' suspension without pay. The officer, Robert T. Simmelkjaer, made a point of noting that he "does not find [Mr. Yusko] to be a venal, corrupt, or depraved individual unworthy of certification as a teacher."

The East Hampton School Board, which had requested Mr. Yusko's dismissal, voted Tuesday to appeal the penalty, as well as a not-guilty decision on one of the charges. The appeal was filed in State Supreme Court yesterday, Robert Sapir, the board's attorney, said.

Gail Parker, the middle school principal, said this week that she has begun interviewing for a replacement.

Charges

The five charges on which Mr. Yusko was found guilty this month were:

- During 1996-97, while alone with a student in the coach's office, he stated to an eighth-grade girl that she was beautiful and that she had always been his favorite and asked her who had been her favorite.

- During 1996-97, he required eighth-grade students in a coed class to perform an exercise where they laid on their backs, raised their legs in the air, and spread them, notwithstanding that some of these students complained that they were uncomfortable performing this exercise in the presence of members of the opposite sex.

- During 1995-96, he refused to allow a seventh-grade girl to return to the locker room to rearrange her gym shorts, which were on backwards, and instead would only allow her to change them in the classroom.

- On one occasion during 1995-96, he told the mother of a seventh-grade student that her daughter looked like "crap."

- During 1996-97, he grabbed a fifth-grader by the front of his vest and pushed him up against the wall.

Board Appeals

The School Board has appealed the hearing officer's not-guilty finding on a sixth charge, that during 1996-97, Mr. Yusko repeatedly placed his arm around female students and rubbed his hand over their backs notwithstanding that he had been warned by school authorities not to engage in such activity.

To prevent Mr. Yusko from returning to work if the 60-day suspension period runs out before a judge decides the appeal, the board has also requested a stay of the suspension.

The suspension would not in any event begin until Mr. Yusko presents his permanent state teacher certification to the board. Although he has taught in the district for almost a decade, he does not have certification.

He reportedly filed application for it with the State Education Department some time ago. The state was said to be awaiting the outcome of the hearing before taking action.

Tenured

Mr. Yusko has not taught in the district, nor has he been paid, since the charges were brought in November 1997. He is said to be working at an unrelated job in Wainscott.

He began working in East Hampton in September 1987, with provisional certification in physical education, but was hired as the high school's in-school suspension teacher, reporting to William Keck, then the assistant principal.

Reached at home this week, Mr. Keck, who retired in 1992, recalled that Mr. Yusko was one of three finalists for that job, which entailed supervising between one and 10 students under disciplinary suspension.

The teacher held the post for "four or five years," and also did some coaching, Mr. Keck recalled. Mr. Yusko received tenure in his certification area, physical education, after three years.

Transfer

Mr. Yusko later became full time, Mr. Keck said, in the physical education department. He said he "never was suspicious" of any inappropriate behavior on the teacher's part.

Mr. Yusko's athletic assignments included working with his wife, Kelly. As the district's first husband-and-wife team, they coached the high school girls softball team in 1990. He also coached girls tennis.

The incidents that gave rise to the charges occurred after Mr. Yusko transferred to the middle school, between 1994 and 1997, most of them in connection with coeducational Project Adventure physical education classes he taught.

Children Testified

Eleven middle school children in those classes were called to testify before the hearing officer.

Mr. Yusko told The Star Tuesday that he had no comment on the matter. However his lawyer, Christopher M. Callagy, a New York State Union of Teachers attorney in Manhattan, said, "The whole case is nonsense."

"You learn a lot about people when they're under stress," Mr. Callagy said. "I've worked with him for a year. I think he is a great person."

Mr. Callagy was unaware Tuesday that the School Board was considering an appeal.

Several School District officials, past and present, were reluctant to discuss the matter, calling it "delicate."

Unanswered Questions

A sketchy outline of Mr. Yusko's employment here left several questions unanswered, among them, the circumstances of his transfer from the high school to the middle school, and the circumstances under which tenure was granted.

A 1978 graduate of East Hampton High School, Mr. Yusko earned his bachelor of science degree from Hofstra University four years later.

Richard Cooney, the district's athletic director until 1995, testified at the hearing that he received complaints about Mr. Yusko from female students on the high school softball team long before the more recent problems - during the spring of 1994.

Sensitivity Issues

In a letter to Mr. Yusko, which is part of the hearing report, Mr. Cooney referred to "sexual innuendo and inappropriate comments . . . unfitting an educator supervising adolescents," but recommended that he continue as coach to the end of the year "with the expectation that any inappropriate behavior of this nature on your part will not reoccur."

Mr. Yusko was not recommended for a coaching position the following year.

Mr. Cooney testified as to Mr. Yusko's "feeling of denial" and lack of "wrongdoing." According to the hearing report, the teacher took no courses that addressed "sensitivity" issues, meaning behavior counseling.

The hearing officer has directed Mr. Yusko now to undergo counseling "to help him relate more appropriately to students."

While Mr. Yusko received "good" and "excellent" ratings for his work the following year, Mr. Cooney testified that the teacher "didn't have a full understanding of the situation." Mr. Cooney said he himself "didn't feel the situation was resolved forever."