NEW YORK – Mariangela Kefalas, an assistant teacher at the International Preschools on East 45th Street in Manhattan, saw something and said something.
Her reward was a pink slip.
In late May, according to the New York Times, Kefalas (28) sent an email to her supervisor about Malthe Thomsen (22), a teaching student from Copenhagen who worked with her as an intern.
The Times quoted her, “I feel compelled to report that I have observed certain peculiar behavior…” which she said she believed bordered on “inappropriate touching of children.”
School officials, “discreetly watched Mr. Thomsen and questioned his colleagues,” according to the Times, “but after a few days, when they did not turn up anything suspicious, they closed the investigation and fired Ms. Kefalas.”
Tuition at the Midtown school is $25,000 per year.
When the school told Kefalas of its decision, she said she had more evidence, but when she refused to turn it over, the Times wrote she “was fired for insubordination, according…the public relations firm hired by the school.”
Kefalas made video recordings after noticing what she felt was troubling behavior, “surreptitiously documenting Mr. Thomsen’s interactions with children, recording about 10 videos of him on her cellphone according to Stephen M. Bourtin, one of her lawyers…The videos showed Mr. Thomsen hugging children and playing with them on his lap, but they were not sexually explicit,” Bourtin said.
Bourtin explained that she took the advice of an attorney friend to show them only to the police.
Thomsen is not yet indicted, but one of the school’s letters to parents, which were obtained by TNH, noted he was “charged with 15 counts of sexual abuse in the first degree, which involves touching the intimate parts of a person.”
None of the numerous letters made any reference to Kefalas or to her firing, and the Times reported that “prosecutors have called the school’s investigation ‘totally insufficient.’
“Some angry families have hired lawyers to investigate. So has Ms. Kefalas, who said her firing constituted whistle-blower retaliation,” according to the Times.
“Ms. Kefalas should certainly not be punished for looking out for the interests of the young children under her care,” Bourtin said.
Patrick Boyd, lead counsel with Bourtin on the case at the Boyd Law Group, did not comment on the story or the police investigation, but he returned TNH’s call because he believes “it’s important for her to have a voice in the community.”
Boyd might be able to say more after speaking to Kefalas, who is out of the country, and he did say that, “she merely expressed a concern about the well-being of the kids and when she did that she was fired and no school should do that.”
What the school also did was put Thomsen to work at its summer program, but Kefalas, “took her complaints to the authorities, and in late June, the police questioned Mr. Thomsen. Several hours later, they obtained a statement that prosecutors described as a confession…He was arrested on suspicion of improperly touching 13 children,” the Times wrote.
Thomsen has been released from Riker’s Island on $400,000 bail, and his lawyers are calling him the victim, as the Times wrote, “of a teacher who often complained about co-workers, and of detectives who improperly duped him into confessing to crimes he did not commit.”