The Department of Education (DOE) is determined to dismiss a teacher who had her fifth grade students send Christmas cards to a felon caught possessing child pornography.
According to a report issued by Richard Condon, the city’s special commissioner of investigation, Melissa Dean, a 31-year-old educator at P.S. 143 in Corona, had her students send handmade holiday cards to John Coccarelli, her friend and alleged boyfriend.
Coccarelli, who is currently serving a one-to-three-year sentence for carrying a loaded firearm and violating an Order of Protection, was charged in 2008 with one count of “possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child” – a floppy disk with roughly 30 sexually explicit photos of underage children – according to the Nassau district attorney’s office. In addition, approximately 20 sexually explicit images of underage children were found on Coccarelli’s laptop. He was ultimately not convicted in relation to the charge.
Dean did not ask permission from students’ parents or the school, and officials claim the teacher encouraged the children to write personal information on the cards, including their names and addresses. The teacher also printed the name of each student on the back of their card.
“You are sending the names and addresses of children to a penitentiary to go to a prisoner, but that doesn’t mean they won’t end up going to other people,” said Condon. “It unnecessarily endangers these children.”
The report also claims the teacher included cards from her and her daughter with the bunch, signing hers “Wifey.”
Despite Dean’s efforts to reach her “hubby,” the cards were intercepted by a correctional officer in charge of security at Groveland, who then called P.S. 134’s principal.
When questioned by the principal, Dean admitted to being friends with Coccarelli and believed her gesture was “a nice thing to do.”
Based on documentation from Groveland, Dean has called Coccarelli 327 times and visited him on 11 different occasions during his sentence thus far – with their latest meeting occurring November 19.
The Courier was unable to reach Dean for comment.
According to a spokesperson for the DOE, Dean has been reassigned out of classroom, and the department is seeking her termination.
A spokesperson for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) declined to comment, citing that the investigation was ongoing.
Upon conducting interviews with Dean’s students, officials learned the teacher told the fifth graders their cards would be sent to patients in hospitals, lonely people without families or the homeless.
“We recommend that she be terminated,” Condon said. “We found that she did not get any of the parents’ permission to send these cards, she misled the children about who these cards were going to and put the children’s names on the cards. She did not have the right to do that.”
The incident has outraged many parents across the borough, who are now calling for Dean’s discharge. “The teacher should be fired immediately,” said Jose Membreno, whose granddaughter attends an elementary school in Corona. “When it comes to a child, it’s inappropriate. A child will listen to an adult, and the teacher knows why he was behind bars. This shows me that the teacher herself might have a problem.”
Additional reporting by David Beltran