Teacher Jonathan Polayes in doorway of his Connecticut home.
He's been repeatedly accused of groping girls and making lewd comments about their breasts, thighs and bottoms — but the city just can’t get rid of this Teflon teacher.
Jonathan Polayes, 60, a 22-year veteran of city schools, was one of the eight staffers singled out Thursday following Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s review of all misconduct cases since 2000.
Three separate investigations found a sickening pattern of Polayes hugging, tickling and harassing female students at schools in Manhattan and the Bronx — but the city hasn’t been able to fire the $95,000-a-year social studies teacher, with arbitration twice ending in unpaid suspensions instead. Officials hope the third time is the charm.
“We’re unhappy to look back and see decisions where arbitrators are deciding the people can stay in the classroom even though they’ve done something that's inappropriate,” Education Department general counsel Michael Best said.
Polayes, who has been assigned to desk duty since March 2, called the agency’s attempts to can him a “witch hunt.”
“The (Education Department) dropped charges, dismissed charges, whatever term you want applies,” Polayes said from his Connecticut home. “And now they’re digging it up again. What does that tell you? ... And right now they’re digging up things that they themselves proved weren’t true.”
Indeed, two arbitrators didn’t find Polayes guilty of “sexual misconduct,” which automatically gets teachers bounced from city employment. But they did determine he hugged two kids, tickled another and touched a girl’s leg in a way that made her feel “uncomfortable.” And after each suspension, according to investigators, the lewd behavior continued.
Reports of Polayes’ boorishness date to 1994, when he was warned by his assistant principal at Chelsea Career and Technical High School not to touch female students and was later caught remarking on the size of girls’ breasts. As far back as 2001, special schools investigator Edward Stancik wrote that Polayes “clearly demonstrates that he is either unwilling or unable to change his behavior.”
According to investigators, he’s been accused of hugging multiple kids; sliding a hand down a girl’s back and saying her thighs were getting smaller; tickling the waist of an 11-year-old; palming a girl’s legs and calling her “Tiny,” and touching another student’s buttocks.
Even after the Daily News wrote about him in 2009, Polayes, who was assigned to the substitute teaching pool, told kids at a new school to Google him — knowing they’d find headlines like “Bronx Teacher Accused of Touching Girls.”
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he supported a “zero-tolerance policy” for sexual misconduct.
“It is up to the (Education Department) to use its powers and its hundreds of lawyers and investigators to manage this process effectively,” he said.
But Walcott said that the city would like to fire as many as 20 other teachers and teaching assistants still working in the system, but its hands are tied.
“This is in the hands, unfortunately, of an arbitrator. I would like to have the ability in these type of cases especially to be the final decision maker. We look forward to working with the UFT around that,” Walcott said.