iBerkshires.com reporter Stephen Dravis said the story that led to Salvatore Frieri’s abrupt resignation on Tuesday begins at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School in Adams in 2008.
“There was an incident on the afternoon of December 2008 where the school was sent away early due to an ice storm and the staff member observed one of the students, a sophomore at school, get in the car of Mr. Frieri who at the time was a substitute teacher at the school,” Dravis told WAMC. And she reported seeing this to her superiors because it was a violation of school policy, and school officials, who to make sure the student got home safely. And in the course of that they contacted her home and were told that she didn’t come back very soon she was living in Clarksburg which is not far away and it took her about two hours according to the report for her to come home.
Before December 18eon the day the Adams Police Department filed its report on the situation, BART had uncovered at least two other incidents between Frieri and the student meeting off school grounds. Dravis broke the story.
“I spoke to both school staff members and a friend of the individual in the police report,” he told WAMC. “And I also spoke informally to another party who knew Mr. Frieri, but not with the student during that time. And the consensus of those conversations is that there was some sort of relationship there at that time. Maybe the strongest, the person who had the most detailed information about it, was the woman who was friends with the student in the police report during that time, because that person told me that she had socialized with them both as a couple.”
When Frieri was hired to lead Lenox Memorial, members of the BART community were stunned.
“When they saw his name and remembered who he was and remembered what happened there, these people kind of started talking to each other and started asking themselves this question, how could this have happened?” Dravis said.
These community members shared their memories of the relationship with Dravis. Accounts range from friends of the teenage student seeing her drinking in Frieri’s Pittsfield apartment in 2008 to teachers overhearing her openly discussing their relationship while on a field trip. Dravis says the shock of seeing Frieri rise to the role of manager of Lenox sparked an outpouring of concern from those who were at BART and knew of his alleged behavior.
“That’s what really, really troubled some people in the BART community is that someone who had been suspected of this kind of behavior had been elevated to such a position. As far as I know, there were none, and I could find no record of any charges being brought against Mr. Frieri, let alone a conviction. Charges of all kinds would have been flagged up on the criminal background check and would have been that red flag for any school system looking for him for a job.
According to Dravis’ report, the incident was reported to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office and the Department for Children and Families, which at the time were in the custody of the student in question. No charges were ever filed against Frieri.
A week after iBerkshires contacted Frieri, who had just been hired on a three-year contract this summer, he quit.
“One of the people I spoke to at BART said they contacted the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” Dravis said. “But at the time Mr. Frieri wasn’t working as a licensed teacher, again he was a substitute teacher at the time, so they wouldn’t have had any sort of license to even attach such a report. So I can’t say for sure that there would have been a way for anyone in the education system to keep up with this stuff without the BART people coming forward.
Speaking to WAMC on Monday, the Lenox Public Schools superintendent answered questions about what the episode says about the district’s screening capabilities for potential hires.
“I think the conclusion is that our selection processes are working. I mean, we thoroughly vet all applicants through every mechanism available, we use state and federal criminal databases. I think where it gets tricky is that if there’s no finding of fact, people aren’t listed in those databases, are they? But we call all references. And so, we certainly vet all applicants thoroughly, and so I think in this case, if somebody wanted to intentionally conceal something from their past, it would be something that would be very difficult to uncover if they didn’t there’s no trace of anything anywhere,” Marc Gosselin said. “We will continue to be diligent in our background checks and, again, rely on community feedback and insights as some of the non-traditional methods of information gathering.”
In the meantime, Lenox Memorial will seek first an interim and then a permanent manager to pick up where Frieri left off.
“We’ve already had a number of people contact us and express interest,” Gosselin told WAMC. “So, you know, we have strong continuity, no interruptions. And so it’s, you know, great to hear. And, again, that interest in the position remains strong, which is also very refreshing.
Attempts to contact Frieri for this story by WAMC failed in time for broadcast.