Former chemistry teacher investigated for sexual misconduct retains links to THHS through Science Olympiad events and Queens College position

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In November, students were shocked to learn that former English teacher Joseph Canzoneri, whom the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) concluded in 2018 “threatens the well-being” of students, had been returned to Townsend Harris this fall without students or families being informed of the investigation’s findings. Despite the NYC Department of Education’s (DOE) claims that Mr. Canzoneri was not allowed to interact with the student body, The Classic reported last fall that he remained in the presence of students in multiple contexts

On December 25, The New York Post reported on two additional teachers accused of educator misconduct at Townsend Harris: former physics teacher Edward Gruszecki, and former chemistry teacher Thomas Sangiorgi. The Classic has obtained a copy of two reports against Mr. Sangiorgi (one from 2008 and one from 2016) prepared by SCI, both of which “substantiated” the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. (The Classic will explore the accusations against Mr. Gruszecki in the 2015 SCI report in a separate piece). The 2016 report said that while at THHS, Mr. Sangiorgi “inappropriately touched and made inappropriate comments to female students.” 

As in Mr. Canzoneri’s case, Mr. Sangiorgi has continued to be connected to the THHS community in significant ways, even five years after the DOE removed him from THHS. As reported in the Post, Mr. Sangiorgi has remained working at the Queens College campus, where THHS is located, as an adjunct lecturer. 

In addition, Mr. Sangiorgi continues to serve as the Science Olympiad regional site coordinator for the New York City South Region, according to the Science Olympiad website. This is the region where the THHS Science Olympiad team and numerous other city schools compete. The DOE told The Post that Mr. Sangiorgi “could no longer work in our schools ever again,” but the Science Olympiad website describes a return to in-person competitions this year, with a tournament scheduled at the DOE’s Grover Cleveland High School on February 5. Mr. Sangiorgi is listed as the “site coordinator” for Grover Cleveland. 

Last year’s competition was held remotely. A recording of the event, joined virtually by THHS students, shows Mr. Sangiorgi introducing himself as the “regional coordinator.” He later names  THHS as the winner of the competition in the video.

Speaking to The Classic, Principal Brian Condon said he learned of Mr. Sangiorgi’s position in Science Olympiad last month and then immediately contacted the DOE. “I would not send my students to [the Science Olympiad Competition] if he was still there,” Mr. Condon said he told his superiors. He said he urged the DOE to handle the situation as “no DOE student should be going there [because] it’s not safe.”

Mr. Condon, who became principal a year after Mr. Sangiorgi was removed, is waiting for word from the DOE on the upcoming regional tournament. Mr. Condon said that when he became principal of THHS he received no information from the DOE about Mr. Sangiorgi’s continued affiliation with Queens College. 

The New York State Science Olympiad directors did not return requests for comment. The NYC DOE did not return requests for comment on the upcoming Science Olympiad event or about Mr. Sangiorgi’s presence at Queens College. Mr. Sangiorgi did not return requests for comment on this article sent to his Queens College email address.

Senior Jennifer Quisi, who is Vice President of the Science Olympiad team, described her frustration in the lack of information provided about Mr. Sangiorgi. “The DOE should’ve let us know about the situation and the specifics of his whereabouts so students could take adequate precaution,” she said in an interview.

Another Science Olympiad team member, treasurer Julia Jinu, agreed. “Students should not have to feel unsafe in a place where they want to further their love for science; we should be able to freely trust our mentors as we depend on them for advice, whether it be about science or life in general,” said Julia, a senior. “The student body should have been more informed of his allegations to take more precautionary measures.”

In addition to his connection to Science Olympiad, as of this year, Mr. Sangiorgi still works for Queens College, and his Basic Chemistry (CHEM 1013) course was listed as an available elective in the 2021 Fall semester catalogue. Townsend Harris seniors receive this catalogue when choosing their Queens College elective courses (all THHS students sign up for two Queens College electives in their senior year). Despite the investigation’s findings from 2016, current students do not receive any guidance warning about his course. The course’s instructors for the 2022 Spring semester have yet to be announced.

In an email to The Classic, Professor Joseph Merino, Assistant to the Director of the Queens College Bridge Program, wrote, “As soon as that [New York Post] article was posted, our office checked our database to see if any of our current Bridge Year students were enrolled in a class with Mr. Sangiorgi. There were none.  We also looked at past semesters (back to 2012). No THHS seniors were enrolled in a Sangiorgi class at QC.”

Professor Merino said the Bridge Program office did not receive any information from the DOE on the findings about Mr. Sangiorgi. “Internally,” he said, “our office was made aware of the situation from our THHS colleagues, so our continuing protocol has been to find other options that fit a student’s criteria.”

Assistant Principal of Pupil & Personnel Services Veronica York, who is in charge of programming at THHS, did not return requests for comment.

Though students have not been programmed to take Mr. Sangiorgi’s courses, they have not received guidance about potential interactions with him on campus. 

The Classic spoke to a 2018 alumna who reported Mr. Sangiorgi for misconduct in 2016. This student said she ran into Mr. Sangiorgi on the Queens College campus near Colden Auditorium. This occurred after she had reported him for misconduct and after he had been removed from THHS. They moved past one another without acknowledgement, but after seeing him, she said she felt unsettled and immediately turned to run back to the THHS school building. 

The alumna told The Classic that when she was a student it was common knowledge that Mr. Sangiorgi was still on the campus. She said she took to checking the Queens College course catalogue to see when he’d be on campus to make sure she didn’t run into him again. After reporting his sexual misconduct to the THHS administration, which she praised for taking her allegations seriously, she said that there was no official follow up from the DOE, the school administration, or guidance. She never learned of Mr. Sangiorgi’s status after the 2016 investigation or received guidance on what to do if she saw him on the Queens College campus. 

Protect Our Students, the student group that formed last fall after Mr. Canzoneri’s story came to light, has called for the DOE and school administration to inform students and parents when a teacher has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, and to ensure that these teachers are prohibited from interacting with THHS students afterwards. In previous statements to The Classic, both the DOE and the school administration have referenced teachers’ rights to privacy and confidentiality as reasons why the school community remained in the dark about substantiated allegations. 

Though Mr. Sangiorgi continues to have the potential to interact with THHS students through Science Olympiad and Queens College, the students who reported him in 2008 faced a much different circumstance. Similar to Mr. Canzoneri in fall 2021, Mr. Sangiorgi was returned to teach at THHS in 2008 despite investigators concluding at the time that Mr. Sangiorgi had inappropriately touched and made inappropriate comments to five female students at THHS. He remained in the presence of THHS students for eight years until a group of four female students made similar allegations. 

On Monday, The Classic spoke to a 2010 alumna who said she was interviewed by investigators in 2008. The 2010 alumna said she told investigators about a pattern of inappropriate remarks as well as inappropriate touching from Mr. Sangiorgi. She said the investigative process was traumatic and left her in tears. 

When Mr. Sangiorgi returned to the building, the 2010 alumna, an active member of Science Olympiad and then a junior, had to continue to interact with Mr. Sangiorgi, who she said was allowed to return as an advisor for the team and who she said would chaperone competitions, including overnight trips. In the fall of her senior year, she said she was placed in one of his classes.

She said that neither the school administration at the time, nor the guidance department at the time (both aware, she said, of her having been interviewed by investigators), followed up with her after assigning her to his class, gave her advice on how to interact with him, or checked in on her emotional wellbeing.

Assistant Principal of Science Susan Brustein, who has run the department since 2000, did not return requests for comment.