The latest teacher-student sex scandal is just the tip of the iceberg for Ed Stancik, the school system's unapologetically strident investigator.Ed Stancik, the public schools' dogged special commissioner of investigation, seemed a little overzealous when he not only charged a Sheepshead Bay High School teacher with sex abuse but also suspended another teacher who befriended the teen victim and eventually convinced her to blow the whistle in the first place. But Stancik can explain. In his ten years on the job, he's seen the problem of school sex abuse get worse -- partly because, he insists, too many cases are bungled by self-appointed Poirots before his own trained staff gets a crack at them.
When he's not busting teachers for rigging test scores or exposing principals who inflate attendance figures, Stancik devotes a full quarter of his office's manpower to sex scandals -- and because of the current teacher shortage, which has forced the system to rely on 10,000 uncertified teachers, Stancik predicts that his sex-abuse caseload may only rise. "We have seen some truly frightening people sneak in," Stancik told me recently. "There's only so much screening you can do. You definitely see where the desire to get a live body in the classroom leads to mistakes in hiring."
The Sheepshead Bay case -- in which Stancik moved to fire the 62-year-old alleged molester as well as the 29-year-old English teacher who finally talked the victim into coming forward -- shows how Stancik reacts when he learns an incident has been kept from him. In the past ten years, besides verifying charges against almost 400 abusers, he's identified more than 200 Board of Ed employees who mishandled the reporting of sex-related incidents. "I can't tell you the number of times our sex investigations have been hindered by sloppy, slipshod internal investigations," Stancik says. "These people treat the incidents like it's their own episode of NYPD Blue. Sex-abuse investigations are complicated; they're skill-intensive. Some teachers are well-meaning, but can't do it."
Which explains why Stancik's report branded the victim's friendship with teacher Peter Cennamo "inappropriate," and called for his dismissal. While others are wondering if Cennamo really was romancing the student (which both teacher and student deny), to Stancik that's almost beside the point. "I'm surprised that the Board of Ed doesn't discipline its people for failing to report these incidents promptly," Stancik says. And if the board won't do it, he will -- something Cennamo is learning too late.