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Corona students sent Xmas cards to jailbird: City

TimesLedger Newspapers

A 31-year-old teacher in Corona gave her students the assignment to create Christmas cards for those in need, but she sent the cards to a friend who is an inmate in upstate New York, according to a report from the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City school district.

Special Commissioner Richard Condon recommended in a Feb. 15 letter to city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott that Melissa Dean, who teaches English as a Second Language to fifth-graders at PS 143, at 34-74 113th St., be fired and barred from working further for the city Department of Education.

In the letter, Condon said the office became aware of the incident after an officer at the Groveland Correctional Facility in Sonyea, N.Y., examined an envelope for inmate John Coccarelli, who was convicted in Nassau County of violating an order of protection and possessing a loaded firearm, Dec. 23 and found it was full of 27 crayon-colored holiday cards.

The order of protection was against his wife, the New York Post reported. Coccarelli had also originally been hit with a charge of possessing child pornography, but was not convicted, the Post reported.

The officer alerted her supervisor, who called PS 143 Principal Sheila Gorski, Condon said.

Through interviews with multiple students, investigators found that the students were asked to create the cards over a two-day period, Condon said. The 10- and 11-year-old students gave differing explanations as to whom the cards were for, but many of them said they were told the cards were for people in the hospital as well as people who had no friends or family, were homeless or were Dean’s friends, Condon said.

The students said Dean suggested they write down personal information about themselves and include an address if they wanted a card in return, Condon said. The parents of the students said they were not informed that their students would be sending work outside of class and were not asked for permission, Condon said.

In addition to cards from the 25 students, Coccarelli was sent two additional cards from Dean, who referred to herself as “Your Wifey,” and Dean’s daughter, Condon said.

When questioned by Gorski, Dean said Coccarelli was her friend and that she knew he was incarcerated at Groveland for violating an order of protection, Condon said. While she admitted she did not have permission to send out the cards, she said she mailed them from a Long Island post office because she “thought it was a nice thing to do,” Condon said.

Dean has been reassigned to the extended use office in Long Island City, Condon said.

Groveland records said Dean visited Coccarelli 11 times between Nov. 21, 2010, and Nov. 22, 2011, and called him more than 327 times between Sept. 7, 2011, and Jan. 3, Condon said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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