John Bowne High School principal reassigned after four harassment lawsuits

Principal Howard Kwait was reassigned from John Bowne High School to a central office after alleged reports of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Carlotta Mohamed

Howard Kwait, the principal of John Bowne High School in Flushing, has been reassigned by the new chancellor after four lawsuits were filed and settled against the school administrator accusing him of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Kwait, who joined Flushing High School in 2006 earning a salary of $156,671, has cost New York City more than $600,000 in lawsuit settlements, including payments to four women who accused him of lewd comments and groping, according to The New York Times.

The latest payout of $130,000 in September was made to Lauren Prettitore, a former guidance counselor at John Bowne High School, who said that Kwait asked her and female colleagues for a threesome, and rubbed his body against her, and told her “if she achieved a high graduation rate, he would perform oral sex on her,” according to the suit filed in Brooklyn federal court. Prettitore accused the New York City Department of Education and Kwait of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Kwait repeatedly made lewd and inappropriate sexual remarks to Prettitore, the suit said. During a meeting with Prettitore, where several other colleagues were present, Kwait leaned over and asked Prettitore, “Do you use that silk belt you are wearing during sex?” according to the lawsuit.

“Schools must be safe, welcome and inclusive environments for all students and staff, and we will do everything in our power to hold employees accountable for meeting these standards,” said Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the DOE.

After a thorough review of the details of Kwait’s cases, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, decided to “reassign him to a central office where he will be closely supervised and will no longer be permitted to manage other employees,” Cohen said.

John Bowne High School said in a statement, “We have no idea who the new principal will be.”

Prior to the previous case, several assistant principals had come forward with accusations of Kwait’s inappropriate behavior around them.

In June 2015, the city settled two cases against Kwait for a total of $275,000.

Former Assistant Principal Maria Catenacci, said Kwait made “unwanted sexual advances,” According to the lawsuit, “Kwait sat with his legs open facing Ms. Catenacci and straddled her. Kwait then used his fingers to touch Ms. Catenacci’s leg, and then, appallingly simulated sexual intercourse by pressing up against plaintiff’s body.”

Sally Maya, who was hired to work as an assistant principal for English at John Bowne High School, had informed Kwait of her pregnancy and he responded by saying, “I guess this means I will have less of you,” according to the lawsuit. Maya said she felt “a little uncomfortable” at Kwait’s reaction.

Prior to those cases, the city paid $200,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former assistant principal, Miriam Zambrano-Lamhaouhi, who also accused Kwait of discrimination when she became pregnant, according to another suit. Kwait actually confronted Zambrano-Lamhaouhi on the issue of pregnancy-related urination, “raising his voice” when speaking to her about bathroom visits.

And in a continuing lawsuit, Kwait is accused of retaliating against Marc Einsohn, also an assistant principal, who questioned Kwait’s alleged request to inflate students’ grades.

In addition, the city has also paid a $225,000 settlement in a case in which Kwait falsely accused a student of sending threatening e-mails.

The DOE said Kwait was not fired because the statute of limitations to bring him up on charges had expired.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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