Flushing Townsend Harris High School teacher removed following sexual misconduct accusations

Townsend Harris High School in Flushing (Screenshot via Google Maps)

A former English teacher at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing has been removed from the campus following allegations of sexual misconduct with students.

Joseph Canzoneri, who was removed from Townsend Harris High School in 2018 and reinstated this fall by the city Department of Education (DOE), has been reassigned outside of the school building, according to the DOE. 

“Our number one duty is ensuring the safety of our school communities and there is nothing more important than the well-being of each and every one of our students,” DOE spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon said. “This employee was immediately removed from the classrooms once these deeply disturbing allegations came to light and will never be permitted back in Townsend Harris again.” 

A report from student journalists at the school’s newspaper, The Classic, revealed that although Canzoneri was removed from the classroom, he still came into contact with students for extended periods of time in an office area in the building. 

One student had told The Classic that she felt “disgusted at the school for putting her in a dangerous situation” and that Canzoneri still had a job. Another student told the student newspaper that they felt “unsettled and concerned” as Canzoneri was a constant presence in the room.

The reporters obtained a document that showed Canzoneri was assigned to help supervise a schoolwide gathering in the auditorium along with other teachers.

The outlet also received a report from the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District that outlined Canzoneri’s alleged misconduct.

The report was sent to then-Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on May 31, 2019. According to the school newspaper, SCI investigators concluded that Canzoneri “demonstrated a consistent and troubling pattern of inappropriate behavior.”

The office had recommended that Canzoneri be fired and prevented from securing any future employment from the “DOE, its vendors, or in any of its facilities.” The DOE appropriately pursued Canzoneri’s termination after the SCI report, but all charges against him were later dropped because the involved students refused to testify against him in a hearing. 

The DOE told QNS that based on state law and labor agreements, the department had to reinstate Canzoneri in his former position. 

The principal of Townsend Harris had refused to give him any class assignments and worked with the DOE to completely remove him from the school. 

“Canzoneri was immediately removed from the classroom when the investigation began, and following the SCI report the DOE pursued termination against him,” the DOE said. 

The DOE said they’re bound by New York State Education Law, which states that a school district cannot terminate a tenured teacher without a hearing. These hearings are known as 3020-a proceedings, and termination can only occur following an independent hearing officer’s decision. 

“This case’s hearing officer dismissed all charges against Canzoneri and ordered him to be reinstated in his prior position,” the DOE said. “We are bound by state law to follow the hearing officer’s orders, and have been able to reassign him outside the school building.” 

Following The Classic’s inquiries on Canzoneri which led to his removal, three senior students organized a sit-in protest on Nov. 23 in the school’s lobby to share their thoughts on the issue. 

The students called for “transparency regarding credible sexual misconduct accusations that are made against teachers within the school, the banning of the accused from entering the building and interacting with students, training for students, transparency for past failures, and the revision of DOE sexual misconduct policies,” according to The Classic. 

In light of the findings of the SCI report, Councilman James Gennaro, who represents the 24th Council District, said he finds it unconscionable that Canzoneri was returned to THHS in September, where he was no longer assigned to a teaching position, but had access to students. 

“Although I am normally cautious to not call for the removal and punishment of a teacher over allegations unless they are substantiated after appropriate due process, in this case the SCI report was unequivocal in the findings of its investigation that Joseph Canzoneri had indeed engaged in sexual relations with several students. The report findings are the difference,” Gennaro said. 

According to Gennaro, it was an “outrageously insensitive and dangerous decision” by the DOE to put additional students at risk for sexual predation. 

Gennaro says he stands with the students and parents of THHS, and all NYC students that there needs to be zero tolerance for any form of sexual predation in schools. 

“I congratulate the student reporters of The Classic for their service to the THHS community in revealing the DOE’s dangerous and unconscionable lapse in judgement,” Gennaro said.