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Documents identify Stonington High School coach fired for 'inappropriate' messages to female students

Stonington — The school system has released documents that identify the Stonington High School coach fired in December  2019, for sending "inappropriate" Snapchat and Instagram messages to female students, as former freshman boys' basketball coach Bobby Atkins.

Atkins is a 2016 Stonington High graduate who previously played on the boys' basketball team and who was hired to coach the 2019-20 season for a stipend of $3,509.

In the recently released review conducted by the state Office of the Child Advocate into whether the school system followed its policy in handling sexual harassment complaints lodged against former teacher and coach Timothy Chokas, state Child Advocate Sarah Eagan revealed that the school system had fired an unidentified coach for inappropriately contacting two girls, one of whom was 15.

The Day subsequently filed a Freedom of Information request for all documents related to the coach's hiring and firing and the allegations against him. The school provided the newspaper with those documents this month.

The documents reveal that school officials, led by former Assistant Principal Neal Curland, conducted a quick and extensive investigation into the allegations once they were made aware of them in late December 2019. They contacted police, reported the issue to the state Department of Children and Families as required by law, obtained written statements and screenshots from the involved girls, contacted their parents and offered support to the girls.

Atkins was relieved of his duties and fired on Dec. 30, 2019. His temporary emergency coaching permit, which was issued by the state Department of Education on Oct. 28, 2019, expired on Oct. 27, 2020, according to the DOE database.

Reached by The Day on social media, Atkins wrote on June 3 he was in the process of getting the report from the school system, and would like to look it over before commenting. He has not responded since to a request for comment.

The documents do not indicate that Atkins' behavior extended beyond sending social media messages.

Documents include text messages, DCF reports

The documents, which redact the names of students, show the investigation began when a teacher overheard some girls talking who seemed uncomfortable with Atkins and were not big fans of his. The teacher then spoke with one of the girls, who said Atkins had been messaging certain girls and commenting on their bodies and that she had examples. The teacher and head basketball coach Jay Wosencroft took the information to Athletic Director Bryan Morrone.

In the school system's report to DCF, Curland characterized the contact as unwanted, included advances and was sexual in nature, pointing to the message Atkins sent that stated "you look great in your dress" accompanied by a fire icon. 

Another document states that during questioning by school officials, Atkins stated "he did not remember any social media contact with any SHS student in recent memory." He also said he valued his coaching job, was off social media and would not use it inappropriately.

In one written complaint, a female student said Atkins began asking if she had Snapchat, which right away she said she knew was weird because he was the age of someone whose name was redacted from the complaint.

"So then I said that's not a good idea and he said why and I said because you are (redacted name's) age which is almost 4 years older. So then I blocked him to make sure he didn't text me again. I've heard about him talking to other girls after that in worse ways than he talked to me (asking for Snap)," the girl wrote.

She said when Atkins asked for her Snapchat because "you're pretty chill and I want to get to know you better" she said she thought that was weird, so she blocked him and told her mother.

In another written complaint, a girl said Atkins continued to try to talk to her on Snapchat and Instagram the previous summer and then again in the fall, even "after finding out my age." The complaint did not list the girl's age.  

Atkins vs. Chokas

The actions of the school system to quickly fire the new coach sharply contrast with those they took toward Chokas, a veteran teacher, who was allowed to resign 11 months earlier in January 2019.

The school system's own documents reveal they had received complaints about Chokas inappropriately touching and making sexually charged remarks to girls dating back to at least 2013. Students and school staff have told The Day that school officials were aware of sexual harassment by Chokas dating back to 2004.

Eagan's report found that school officials knew of the sexual harassment allegations from 2013 to 2017 and did not take all the steps it could to respond to the allegations. None of the complaints were ever placed in his personnel file and he was not disciplined. School officials instead categorized the complaints as reports and concerns.

Chokas' resignation came after three more girls complained about his actions. Under the terms of his separation agreement, he was paid the remainder of his $81,396 salary through the rest of that school year using accrued vacation time. He also received benefits and assurances from the school system they would not discuss or fire him. Chokas' teaching certificate is still valid.  

j.wojtas@theday.com  

Messages with student

Below is a portion of the social media messages obtained by school officials between former basketball coach Bobby Atkins and a female student at Stonington High School. The messages were among the documents recently released to The Day by the school system.

Atkins: You looked great in ur dress.
U dance with anyone
U got Snapchat wanna add me or nah

Girl: No offense but like I probably shouldn't. hahaha.

Atkins: haha why I know ur in high school but it's just snap
Why don't you think you should

Girl: I just don't think you should

Atkins: I don't c why not
Did I do something before

Girl: It'd just be weird, like your chill and nice and all don't get me wrong but still I'm a junior and your (redacted name's) age.

Atkins: Yeah that's true
that sucks

Another portion of the conversation, following the November 2019 homecoming dance, went this way:

Atkins: Can we talk about ur dress for a min cuz damn

Girl: Thanks
It's not that special

Atkins: But you look damn good in it
Nobody tried dancing with u like not a slow dance but another dance.

Girl: No

Atkins: They crazy

Girl: Oh well

Atkins: They prob missed out
Wish I chaperoned or something.

Girl: It was pretty boring
Wouldn't have been very exciting

Atkins: ldkkkk If I was there maybe it would have.

 

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