Accused of Abuse, but Not Charged, Teacher’s Aide Remains in Limbo
By JOHN LELAND
Hany Abdalla was 35 years old, working as a teacher’s aide on the Upper West Side, when his world came to a stop. On April 25, police officers came to his apartment in Queens and arrested him on allegations that he had sexually abused an 8-year-old special education student at Public School 84 on West 92nd Street, where he had worked since 2007. The Education Department suspended him without pay.
The next day, after Mr. Abdalla spent the night in custody, the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to prosecute, announcing that it had destroyed the criminal complaint against him and sealed his fingerprints. Mr. Abdalla was never formally charged with a crime. He left the jail a free man.
Now, more than a month later, Mr. Abdalla remains in a kind of limbo – suspended without pay, neither charged nor able to work. He does not know which child made the allegation, or when or where the crime was alleged to have occurred, said his lawyer, Michael Farkas, who said his client denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Abdalla also does not know when or how his suspension might end.
“Just because the D.A. declined to prosecute, it doesn’t mean they’re obligated to stop the investigation,” Mr. Farkas said, adding that the district attorney often keeps investigations open for years, even without new evidence. “You never get a letter saying it’s stopped.”
The Education Department is also conducting its own investigation, which might end in Mr. Abdalla’s being fired or otherwise disciplined, even without a criminal prosecution, said Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the department.
Mr. Farkas declined to make his client available for questions. Mr. Abdalla, reached at home by telephone, hurried off the line.
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said there was no formal mechanism for “clearing” a suspect and closing an investigation; any day could turn up a new lead. She would not comment further on Mr. Abdalla’s case.
If Mr. Abdalla were a teacher, the department could not have stopped his pay without holding a hearing to determine whether there was probable cause for the allegations against him, said Adam Ross, general counsel of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers and paraprofessionals like Mr. Abdalla, who work in the classroom but are not teachers. But as an aide, he has no such protection.
The teachers’ union has filed an initial grievance on Mr. Abdalla’s behalf, and could seek back pay if Mr. Abdalla is reinstated, depending on the circumstances, said Richard Riley, a union spokesman. Mr. Abdalla earned $23,534 in 2011.
For the Education Department, the safest course is to keep Mr. Abdalla out of schools. In February, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott faced angry parents at another Upper West Side elementary school after an aide was arrested and charged with sexually abusing an 8-year-old student, six years after he had been accused of misbehavior at another school.
Charges of sexual misconduct by school employees are up significantly this year. In the first three months, 248 charges of abuse reached the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District, an increase of 35 percent over the same period last year, according to a report in SchoolBook, a joint project between The New York Times and WNYC. Mr. Abdalla was at least the eighth school employee to be arrested this year on allegations of sexual misconduct. The day after he was released, prosecutors from the district attorney’s child abuse unit assured parents and teachers at the school that it was still investigating the case.
But as one of the city’s largest employers, with 135,000 full-time employees, the Education Department also has obligations to its staff. Last year, less than 30 percent of the special commissioner’s investigations into sexual misconduct led to charges.
Ms. Feinberg declined to answer questions about how long the department could withhold Mr. Abdalla’s pay or keep him suspended without a hearing, or what could lead to him being reinstated or fired, short of criminal prosecution.
More: NY Times