Thanks to intrepid student journalists, an English teacher and coach at prestigious Townsend Harris HS in Queens was yanked from the school this week after it came to light that city investigators confirmed he had sex with a former female student.
Joseph Canzoneri, 53, allegedly brought the girl to an apartment where he plied her with wine and marijuana before they had intercourse and oral sex, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools found.
The SCI recommended Canzoneri be fired, and the Department of Education tried to do so. But the girl refused to testify at a hearing, so the case was dropped and he was entitled to keep his job under New York tenure protections.
After more than a year in a rubber room, a space where accused teachers await the disciplinary process, he quietly returned to Townsend Harris at the start of the school year in September. The principal kept him out of classrooms in an office.
The scandal remained under wraps until three weeks ago, when someone leaked the case to teen journalists at the school’s student newspaper, The Classic.
Known for aggressive reporting, the paper has run a series of articles in the last year on six former students who claimed sexual contact with three Townsend Harris teachers — cases all kept secret at the time. The unnamed teachers no longer work at the school. The editors have called for greater openness and training on educator sexual misconduct.
In light of this campaign, an anonymous “concerned parent” sent The Classic the bombshell SCI report on Canzoneri. The precocious journos spotted him in the building and on Wednesday filed a Freedom of Information Law request with SCI to authenticate the document.
Suddenly the DOE took action. The same week — the agency would not say which day — officials shunted Canzoneri from Townsend Harris into a “central office” somewhere outside of the building. After making $135,000 last year, he remains on the payroll.
“It is past time for greater transparency about what has gone on at Townsend Harris and for the DOE and school administration to engage students and families in an open, honest conversation about the horrific allegations we have reported on,” editors-in-chief Ryan Eng, Julia Maciejak, and Jasmine Palma told The Post.
The students plan to write about the SCI report, and how Canzoneri managed to keep his job, among other issues. The newspaper cannot be censored by the DOE or school administrators, they said.
The leaked document received by The Classic a few weeks ago was a May 31, 2019 letter from SCI’s Anastasia Coleman to ex-Chancellor Richard Carranza. The 11-page missive combined the results of two probes of Canzoneri, which started in March 2018.
The Post obtained the same SCI letter. It concluded that Canzoneri, then 49, had engaged in “numerous inappropriate acts” involving teenage female students, such as touching one girl inappropriately, driving students in his car, and exchanging text or Instagram messages.
Most damning, Canzoneri engaged in intercourse and oral sex with “Student G” on two occasions in 2015, the report says.
Student G, who was in Canzoneri’s class during the 2013-14 school year, told investigators she developed a “big crush” on the teacher, who also coached baseball, girls’ tennis and worked with kids on theater productions.
According to the report, Canzoneri gave her a book signed, “You’re an amazing woman. Love, Joe.”
A day after she graduated, the smitten teen asked Canzoneri to meet with her “to say goodbye.”
She told SCI investigators they “walked and talked” in a park. Then Canzoneri pulled her under a tree, where they kissed. He then fondled her under her clothes, she told investigators. They arranged to meet in a few days, when he could get keys to a friend’s apartment.
At the apartment, she was “very nervous” sitting next to him on a couch, she told probers. They drank wine, smoked pot and started making out, the report says.
Moving to a bedroom, Canzoneri told the girl to take off her clothes and lay on her stomach. During intercourse, he lost his erection, saying “it must be the guilt of being married,” the report said.
In August 2015, before leaving for college, Student G texted Canzoneri to ask if he wanted to meet again to say goodbye. He drove her to the same Queens park, where “he led her behind some bushes.” They had sex — but “only a second or two” because he again went limp, the report says.
While friends had told SCI that Student G had sex with Canzoneri, she herself didn’t come forward until 2018, saying she didn’t want the same thing to happen to her younger sister at Townsend Harris.
Canzoneri declined to speak with SCI investigators. He did not return messages from The Post.
Conizeris’ actions with Student G and others show “a pattern of grooming” girls for sexual contact that “threatens the wellbeing of these and other students at THHS,” SCI’s Coleman concluded.
She recommended termination. The DOE served Canzoneri with charges of misconduct. As a tenured teacher, he was entitled to an administrative trial. But none of the students agreed to testify. The hearing officer dismissed the case and ordered Canzoneri be reinstated.
“This employee was not permitted to set foot in a classroom once these deeply disturbing allegations came to light, and is not working with any students or in any classrooms.” DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon said.
Canzoneri was “reassigned to a position outside the school this week,” she added.