Investigation into past student-teacher relationship leads to resignation of Lenox middle-high school principal
Last week, the principal of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School in Lenox, Massachusetts resigned after allegations emerged that he had an illicit relationship with a student at a different Berkshire County school years before.
iBerkshires.com reporter Stephen Dravis says that the story that led to Salvatore Frieri’s abrupt resignation Tuesday begins at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School in Adams back in 2008.
“There was an incident on December afternoon in 2008 where the school had had an early dismissal because of an ice storm and the member of the staff had observed one of the students, a sophomore at the school, getting into the car of Mr. Frieri who at the time was a substitute teacher at the at the school," Dravis told WAMC. "And she reported seeing that to her superiors because it was a violation of school policy, and there was some concern by the school officials, who checked in to make sure that the student had gotten home safely. And in the course of that, they contacted her home and were told that she did not arrive back very quickly. She was living in in Clarksburg, which is you know, is not far. And it took about two hours according to the report for her to arrive back at her home.”
By December 18th, the day the Adams Police Department entered its report on the situation, BART had found at least two other incidents between Frieri and the student meeting off school grounds. Dravis broke the story.
“I talked to both people who are on the staff at the school and one friend of the individual in the police report," he told WAMC. "And I also spoke off the record to another party who was who was acquainted with Mr. Frieri, but not with the student during that time period. And the consensus from those conversations is that there was some sort of relationship there at that time. Perhaps the strongest, the person who had who had the most detailed information on that, was the woman who was friends with the student in the police report during that period, because this person told me that they had socialized with the two of them as a couple.”
When Frieri was hired to run Lenox Memorial, BART community members were stunned.
“When they saw his name and remembered who he was and remembered what happened there, these folks sort of started talking to one another, and started asking that question of, how could this happen?” Dravis said.
Those community members shared their recollections of the relationship with Dravis. Accounts range from friends of the teenage student seeing her consume alcohol at Frieri’s Pittsfield apartment in 2008 to teachers hearing her openly discuss their relationship on a field trip. Dravis says the shock at seeing Frieri ascend to the role of principal in Lenox triggered an outpouring of concern from those who were at BART and were familiar with his alleged behavior.
“That's the thing that really, really troubled some of the folks in the BART community, was that someone who had been suspected of this sort of behavior had had elevated to such a position. As far as I know, there were no, and I haven't been able to find any record of any charges being brought against Mr. Frieri, much less a conviction. Charges of any kind would have shown up on the on the criminal background check and would have been that red flag to any school system that looked at him for a job.”
According to Dravis’s reporting, the incident was reported to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Children and Family, which at the time was in custody of the student in question. No charges were ever filed against Frieri.
A week after iBerkshires reached out to Frieri, who had just been hired on a three-year contract this summer, he resigned.
“One of the people I spoke to at BART said they had contacted the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education," said Dravis. "But at the time, Mr. Frieri wasn't working as a licensed teacher, again, he was a substitute teacher at the time, so they wouldn't have had any sort of licensing to even attach such a report to. So I can't say with any certainty that there would have been any way for anyone in the education system to track this sort of thing but for the folks at BART coming forward.”
Speaking with WAMC Monday, the superintendent of the Lenox Public Schools answered questions about what the episode says about the district’s screening capabilities for potential hires.
“I think the takeaway is that our screening processes work. I mean, we thoroughly vet all candidates through all available mechanisms, we use state and federal criminal databases. I think where it gets tricky is if there's no finding of fact, then individuals don't get entered into those databases, right? But we do call all references. And so, we certainly thoroughly vet all candidates, and so I think in this case, if someone wants to intentionally shroud something from their past, that would be something that would be very difficult to unearth if there's no record of something anywhere," said Marc Gosselin. “We'll continue to be diligent in our background checking, and again, rely on feedback and insight from the community as well in some of the nontraditional ways of gathering information.”
In the meantime, Lenox Memorial will search for first an interim and then permanent principal to pick up where Frieri left off.
“We've already had a number of folks reach out and express interest," Gosselin told WAMC. "So, you know, we have strong continuity, no disruption. And so that's, you know, great to hear. And, again, that interest in the position remains strong, which is also very refreshing.”
Attempts to contact Frieri for this story by WAMC were unsuccessful in time for broadcast.