By Tom Momberg
At a Long Island City high school, a staffer’s alleged affair with a student is just the latest in a series of problems.
In February, parents and teachers from William Cullen Bryant High School at 48-10 31st Ave. demanded the principal and the city Department of Education account for more than $195,000 in athletic funds collected from students for gym uniforms, paddle locks and food that was not recorded as revenue, but the DOE said the Special Commissioner of Investigation never confirmed the allegations.
And since July, the school, which has struggled with low graduation rates, has been under investigation by the DOE for allegedly falsifying student grades, with one graduate claiming she received a diploma she did not deserve.
Now, the DOE is conducting an internal investigation into the school’s administration after it was brought to the attention of gym teacher Peter Maliarakis by a student that former math teacher and Assistant Principal Pelagia Papoutsis, 33, may have had an affair with one of her former students.
Papoutsis was suddenly removed from the high school when the semester started. The DOE said she had been reassigned to duties away from any students.
The scandal was precipitated by a message Maliarakis received from the female student, who said she was romantically involved with Papoutsis, via the gym teacher’s Facebook group page titled “Things you never knew about Bryant High School.”
The closed group with more than 13,000 members has been a place where students and staff alike bring up mutinous topics about issues with the administration, scandal and favoritism.
The student accused Bryant Principal Namita Dwarka, who promoted Papoutsis last year, of knowing about the relationship, Maliarakis said in a phone interview with the TimesLedger Newspapers.
He said the relationship apparently started during the student’s senior year when she was 17 years old.
Neither police nor prosecutors were investigating the matter, as the age of consent in New York is 17. Nonetheless, the DOE confirmed the Special Commissioner of Investigation was conducting a probe and a sexual relationship could be grounds for termination.
“This particular girl reached out to me,” Maliarakis said. “So I lodged a complaint with the SCI and the principal covered it up… Everybody in the DOE has been looking the other way, but now I’ve given them a lot of proof, as has much of the staff here. I know the community and the city are fed up and will not stand for this.”
As for previous scandals at the high school, a DOE spokesman said the probe into grade fixing allegations from this summer was continuing.
“There is an ongoing SCI investigation around Regents and grading improprieties at Q445, but all previous allegations around Regents and grading improprieties at this school have not been substantiated,” he said.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb