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NYC Teacher Sent Students' Christmas Cards to Inmate Once Charged With Child Porn Possession

"she told [the students the cards] were going to homeless people"

A bizarre and troubling story is emerging out of New York City, where the Department of Education's Special Commissioner of Investigation discovered that a fifth-grade teacher was using students in her class to send greeting cards to a convicted felon. This, in itself, is disturbing and clearly problematic, but the major detail -- that the recipient was once charged with child pornography possession -- adds a horrific twist to the tale.

The teacher, Melissa Dean, apparently encouraged her class to send their handmade holiday cards to people in need, but instead she mailed them to inmate John Coccarelli. It is important to note that Coccarelli, who is serving time in Groveland Correctional Facility in Groveland, New York, was never convicted of child pornography possession. However, he is currently serving time for weapons charges and for violating an order of protection.

In a letter addressed to Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard J. Condon, wrote:

Dean suggested that the students write personal information on the cards, including their names and addresses, and she printed the name of the student on the back of his or her card. Dean did not obtain permission from the parents or the school administration to allow the children to correspond with the inmate.

The city's investigation into Dean's actions commenced on Dec. 27, 2011, after the principal at her school, Sheila Gorski, logged a complaint, via e-mail, to the city's Department of Education. This complaint was waged just days after Dean apparently mailed the cards to her imprisoned friend.

In the end, the 27 hand-made cards, which allegedly included some of the children's addresses, never made it into Coccarelli's hands, as they were intercepted by an officer and, based on his past history, deemed "inappropriate" for him to possess. The package of student notes apparently arrived at the prison on Dec. 23. After receiving them, officials determined they came from PS 143 and, in turn, called the school's principal. The rest, of course, is history (read the entire letter describing the incident here).

According to Gothamist, Gorski questioned Dean and the 31-year-old teacher admitted her friendship with Coccarelli and that he, indeed, is imprisoned. The teacher visited the inmate 11 times between Nov. 2010 and Nov 2011 and called him 312 times between Sep. 7, 2011 and Jan. 3, 2012, thus the two are closely connected.

"It is the recommendation of this office that Melissa Dean’s employment be terminated, that she be made ineligible for work with the Department of Education, and that this matter be considered should she apply for any position in the New York City school system, with one of its vendors, or in one of its facilities, in the future," Condon concluded in his letter.

In later commenting on the matter, Condon said, "[Dean] told [the students the cards] were going to homeless people, going to people in the service, that they were going to people who lived alone. I have no idea what this woman was thinking."

Walcott, too, had plenty to say about the matter:

"Totally ridiculous and absurd and something that we should not tolerate at all and we are not going to tolerate it. As soon as we heard about it, we removed the teacher. We are moving for that teacher's termination. It's something that's totally unacceptable when I heard about it, and I can't say on air what I said to myself because I just find it mind-boggling."

If all checks out as the city alleges, Dean will surely have a difficult time finding employment in the education field moving forward. For now, she has been reassigned and no longer has contact with children.

(H/T: Gothamist)

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