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Amid Teacher’s Porn Charges, Parents Question Newton School Officials

NEWTON, Mass. — Students in Newton are back to school this week as the community grapples with news that a second teacher in less than two years has been arrested on child pornography charges.

On Tuesday night, parents met with city and school officials at F.A. Day Middle School to air out their concerns. Some had come out of concern, others out of curiosity, to hear how the school system is responding to the troubling allegations.

Sixth grade math teacher Stephen Chan had worked in the district for 23 years. He was arrested last Thursday on charges of possessing and disseminating child pornography. Chan has pleaded not guilty.

Liana Asim’s son was in Chan’s math class last year. She says her son thought Chan was mean, but nothing out of the ordinary. When she got the email from the school district about the teacher’s arrest, she instantly thought of a snake.

“It’s like something that’s been quietly slithering through our community, and we were unaware,” she said. “And that’s what it sort of felt like. It sort of felt like a betrayal. When you send children to school, there’s a certain measure of trust.”

Asim moved to Massachusetts three years ago from Illinois. She chose Newton for its schools, its comfort and its hometown feel.

She says 95 percent of her experience has been positive, but in light of the Chan case and that of another Newton teacher — David Ettlinger, who was sentenced in January to 45 years in prison — she wants to hear reassurances from the school district that it’s trying to make sure there’s not another “snake in the weeds.”

But parent Jeff Schurgin says it seems like the Newton School Department has the situation under control. His son is a sixth-grader at Day.

“I think it’s a difficult situation, right?” he said. “How do you protect against somebody doing something that’s difficult to find out?”

At the community meeting, the superintendent said the school department vets teachers thoroughly and did not see any red flags in Chan’s background. He, along with the mayor and the chief of police, tried to reassure parents that Newton schools are safe.

Larry Berkowitz, a psychologist from Riverside Trauma Center, was also on hand.

“How many hundreds of people work for the Newton school system? And, we have a couple here who have violated that trust and make us all feel vulnerable. But the most important message here is that there are many people who can be trusted.”

But still a number of parents seemed anxious that no matter what they do, or what the school district does, with the advent of social media and the Internet, kids are now more desensitized than ever before. One mother said her 13-year-old hardly blinked when she heard the news of Chan’s arrest.

School officials promised to post talking points online to offer parents guidance on how to talk to their kids, but other than that, they offered no concrete solutions.

Earlier Coverage:

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