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Queens Teacher Allowed Back to School After Report Details Alleged Grooming, Sex With Ex-Student

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Townsend Harris High School in Queens

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A longtime teacher at a top Queens school still worked on campus even after investigators recommended he be fired for an alleged sexual relationship with a former student, a report obtained by THE CITY shows. 

The Special Commissioner of Investigation, an independent monitor of city schools, contended Townsend Harris High School English teacher Joseph Canzoneri engaged in numerous inappropriate acts with female students — from “flirtatious” text messages to sex with one young woman shortly after she graduated.

The teacher’s alleged bad behavior dated back to at least 2013, although the first complaint wasn’t received until 2018, according to the report, which was issued on May 31, 2019. 

Canzoneri was removed from the school during the SCI investigation, but returned this past September after he was cleared in a trial known as a 3020-a proceeding, which is required by state law for tenured educators. 

He was not allowed to teach or work with students, an official said. 

Canzoneri was reporting to the school building for work up until earlier this week, when THE CITY asked about his status. He was reassigned to a position at a DOE office, according to Katie O’Hanlon, an education department spokesperson.

“There is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of our students,” O’Hanlon wrote in a statement. “This employee was not permitted to set foot in a classroom once these deeply disturbing allegations came to light, and is not working with any students or in any classrooms.” 

Canzoneri was originally hired in 1992 and resigned in 2001, according to the department. He then returned to work in 2003 at Townsend Harris where he remained until the misconduct investigation began. Payroll data from the nonprofit Empire Center shows he made more than $135,000 in 2020. 

A ‘Troubling Pattern’

Contacted by email and phone, Canzoneri declined to comment. He’d also refused to speak with SCI investigators, citing his status as a tenured teacher, according to the report.

Canzoneri “demonstrated a consistent and troubling pattern of inappropriate behavior with female students that escalated from contact by text messages and social media, after school activities, and slight physical contact,” the report said. 

He invited students to his home for a pool party, according to the report, and was allegedly seen “inappropriately looking at female students.”

An except from the Special Commissioner of Investigation’s report

Obtained by THE CITY

Canzoneri gave one former student marijuana and wine before having sex with her at a colleague’s apartment in 2015 shortly after she graduated, the report stated. He later met the young woman at a Queens park to engage in other sexual activities, it said. 

“Canzoneri’s actions with these students indicates a pattern of ‘grooming’ culminating in sexual contact that threatens the wellbeing of these and other students at [Townsend Harris],” the investigators concluded. They recommended that he be fired. 

Protecting Future Students

The former student eventually spoke with investigators to protect her younger sister, who had recently been accepted into the school, the report said. 

Although the investigation was not publicized, some parents and other members of the school community were aware of the probe — and were alarmed that he had returned to the school building.  

‘It is shocking that it took the Department of Education this long to act.’

“It is shocking that it took the Department of Education this long to act to remove this dangerous teacher,” Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Queens), an alum who also represents the neighborhood the school is in, said in a statement. 

“The safety of our students should be front and center, always,” she added.

One parent at the school, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was disturbing that Canzoneri was let back into the building after the SCI report. 

“In the DOE system, there’s nobody representing the kids,” the parent said. 

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