Parents to BOE: ‘Please protect our children’

Board listens to residents’ concerns over past of CMS teacher Joseph DeShan

By STEPHEN FINN

The Sun

The Cinnaminson Middle School Board of Education meeting on the night of Oct. 16 was divided into two decidedly separate parts. The first half of the night was run by middle school students for Youth in Board Service Day.

Not all of those in attendance were there to support the children as they performed the duties of the board. Many other parents were waiting to address the student’s adult counterparts on the actual school board in regard to an issue that has been causing a stir among middle school parents. After the children left the room, the board opened the meeting to the public for comments.

The remaining parents had come to the meeting to express their concerns over the school’s sixth-grade reading teacher, Joseph DeShan. A number of these parents said DeShan was currently on leave from the school, however district officials refused to confirm that.

Sixteen years ago, stories ran in a number of publications concerning DeShan’s past and his continued employment in Cinnaminson schools.

According to an article in the New York Times dated May 3, 2002: “A fifth-grade teacher in South Jersey returned to class yesterday, three weeks after he was suspended because of news reports that he had impregnated a 15-year-old girl while he was a priest in Connecticut.”

The superintendent of schools at the time, Dr. Salvatore Illuzi, along with two lawyers from the district determined DeShan had neither violated administrative rules while employed by the school nor was he vulnerable to criminal charges as Connecticut’s statute of limitations on sexual assault had expired since his time as a priest, according to the Times’ story.

Concerning DeShan’s return to the school, Illuzi was quoted in the Times’ article saying “he did come back today, and he was very positively received by his students and his colleagues.”

Upon learning of DeShan’s alleged past indiscretions and subsequent return to Cinnaminson schools, parents previously unaware of the case took turns at the Oct. 16 meeting expressing their fears for their students attending the school.

Cornell Jones was among the parents present that night who delivered a heartfelt plea to the board.

“As a dad, it’s very difficult for me to want to send my child to a place that I believe she should be safe at all times when there is a person who has history of dealing with children in an inappropriate manner,” said Jones. “I love her and I will do whatever I have to do to protect her. I come here to speak to this board to have them listen to my heart and my words. This man should not be here. Please protect our children.”

Alyssa Roamer became aware of the rumors through her daughter, a student at Cinnaminson Middle School. Her initial reaction was disbelief.

“I said ‘that would never happen in the Cinnaminson School District, I promise you that. There would never be a rapist as a teacher in your school,’” said Roamer. “I (searched) him to find out everything, and I had to educate my daughter and tell her I was sorry that I dismissed her story and I had to teach her what a rapist was, what a pedophile was.”

Ron Roamer, Alyssa’s husband, inquired as to what the board’s feelings were hearing from parents on the issue.

Superintendent Stephen Cappello offered a limited response reminding attendees an investigation was currently underway.

“I can certainly say that any issues that are raised at this board will certainly be taken under consideration and your concerns definitely are heard,” said Cappello. “You understand that we are involved in the middle of a process and will continue to have a conversation. We are very limited in the level of conversation we can have in addressing specifics.”

The Cinnaminson Sun reached out to Cappello for further comment and received a similar response.

“Under advisement of our board attorney, I won’t be able to comment on the issue at all,” said Cappello.

The Sun was unable to reach DeShan for comment.