Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Teacher visiting online dating site fired

Mark Zaretsky

A male substitute teacher at East Haven Academy was escorted from the school and removed from the town's pool of substitutes Friday after allegedly being seen in class using a school computer to peruse a "mail-order brides" Web site, school officials confirmed Monday.

Authorities identified the Web site as www.loveme.com, which represents a company that arranges "romance tours" and introductions to would-be foreign mates. The site, "A Foreign Affair: Introductions and Tours," bills itself as a "Russian, Latin, Asian Women Dating Service - Mail-Order Brides.

It describes itself as "the world's largest and most respected introduction and tour service," and lists its corporate headquarters as Phoenix.

The substitute teacher was not immediately identified.

School officials, reacting to initial reports that the sub, a Kelly Services temporary worker who was presiding over a sixth-grade art class, had been looking at a pornography site, reported the situation to police Monday.

But Youth Officer Mike D'Amato said that after looking at the computer record of sites the substitute visited and discussing it with a member of the state's attorney's office, no charges were filed.

"I looked at it myself and I checked with the prosecutor's office, and they said that it was not illegal and not pornographic," D’Amato said. "I mean, obviously, he was misusing the system over there. He also was checking his e-mail, he was checking job listings in other states."

East Haven Academy, in the old high school at 200 Tyler St., houses East Haven's gifted and talented student program, including more than 230 students in grades three through eight.

Board of Education Chairman John Finkle said Principal Angela Speck, who started in September, "was told of the incident" and "within minutes of her being told … he was escorted out of the building."

Finkle said it didn't matter that the site wasn't a sex site. "Whether it was pornography or not, it was definitely inappropriate," Finkle said. "Poor judgment. Definitely bad judgment."

Finkle and Frank Meoli, the schools' administrative director and former technology director, both said Internet access in all town schools is filtered by the state and by the school system.

"On its face, right now, as best as we are able to figure it, he went to no pornography … but to ensure that, it has been turned over to the Police Department to find out for sure," said Finkle.

"Somebody would have to be pretty savvy to get to a pornography site from those computers. … You couldn't even get to MySpace from our computers, let alone to pornography."

Finkle later said that there was nothing on the site more racy "than what you would see in a Victoria Secrets Web site" and "nothing that puts the kids in any danger."

The Foreign Affair Web site has dozens of pages of photos and short descriptions of women in foreign countries, some as young as 18 but many in their 30s or 40s and a few as old as 64.

While some of the women in the photos are clad in sexy lingerie, most are more modestly clad.

While the school system has the ability to tighten its filters for sexual content, violence and hate sites, the danger is that a student trying to do research on the Holocaust, for example, might not be able to get through, Meoli said.

Mark Zaretsky can be reached at mzaretsky@nhregister.com

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