The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

November 20, 2012

Ex-teacher accused of sex crimes

JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star

---- — A 28-year-old biology teacher who until recently was on the faculty for the Walton School District has been charged with two felony counts of having sex with underage students at the school, authorities reported Monday.

Stephanie Fletcher of Walton was charged with two counts of third-degree rape, one count of third-degree criminal sexual act and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

State police, in announcing the arrest, did not disclose the fact that the case involved a former public school teacher whose alleged victims were students at Walton High School. But The Daily Star was able to confirm she had been on the faculty, and that the alleged victims were students, in interviews with school authorities and parents.

“She is no longer employed by the school district,” said Judith Breese, chairwoman of the Walton Board of Education.

Breese said Fletcher had been a teacher at Walton High School for “at least a few years.” Fletcher stopped working at the school a few months ago, she said, declining to elaborate on the specifics of the teacher’s departure from employment.

“This is a personnel matter, and it is a police matter,” she said in explaining why she would not discuss the matter in detail. She said she could not comment further because “there is an active police investigation.”

Officials with knowledge of the case told The Daily Star that at least one of the alleged illicit contacts with a student happened in the village of Walton, and another took place in the town of Tompkins. However, it could not be determined if Fletcher had any alleged encounters with students on school grounds, as state police declined to discuss the case beyond what was outlined in a brief press release.

In that release, issued Monday afternoon, state police said: “The arrest is the result of an investigation into sexual relationships the defendant had with underage victims. Police also asked that anyone with further information to contact Troop C headquarters in Sidney at 561-7400.

Fletcher was released on her own recognizance when she was arraigned Wednesday before Sidney Town Justice Steven Rose.

She pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The judge told The Daily Star that he was acting on the recommendation of Delaware County District Attorney Richard Northrup Jr. when he opted to impose no bail conditions on Fletcher.

She is scheduled to return to court Nov. 29.

A Walton parent who is a member of the school district’s shared decision-making team, Larry Core, said while the nature of the arrest is bound to shock the community, it is important for the public to refrain from rendering any judgements on the matter.

“She must be given her day in court so that the facts can be borne out,” said Core, a teacher for the Delaware Chenango Madison Otsego BOCES. “Often, we rush to judgment before all the facts are brought to the surface.”

As for his own reaction to the charge, he said, “If it’s true, it’s appalling. And if the allegations turn out to be untrue, it’s also appalling that this will destroy her reputation.”

A reference to Fletcher that remained on the school district web site Monday night indicated that she was the instructor for courses in “The Living Environment and Marine Biology.”

Misty Phoenix of Walton, a parent who is also a member of the district’s shared decision making team, suggested that the school district set up a special telephone number that could be called by people in the community who have specific questions about the alleged incidents.

To contact the reporter for this story, call Joe Mahoney at 353-9391.