NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — One week after iBerkshires.com reached out to the Lenox Public Schools regarding 14-year-old suspicions of an inappropriate relationship with a minor by the man who was hired as the district's middle-high school principal this summer, the district announced late Tuesday that Salvatore Frieri had resigned.
"Mr. Frieri's resignation is especially upsetting and disappointing after LMMHS had such a joyful opening to the 2022-2023 school year," Superintendent Marc Gosselin wrote in an email sent to the school community. "Still, this decision is ultimately best for Mr. Frieri and his family and our LMMHS students and staff."
Attempts to reach Frieri were unsuccessful on Tuesday evening.
According to a Dec. 18, 2008, Adams Police Department report, Frieri was a 27-year-old substitute teacher at the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School. School officials fired him on Dec. 11 of that year and reported to police that they had information about "an inappropriate relationship" between Frieri and a 15-year-old girl enrolled as a sophomore at the school, the report reads.
On that Thursday in mid-December, BArT ordered a noon dismissal due to inclement weather, the report reads. Frieri was observed leaving the parking lot with the student, Jane (not her real name), in violation of school policy, school officials reported.
Jane, who was in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families at the time, did not arrive at her foster home in Clarksburg until two hours later, the report reads.
According to testimony to the police from then-BArT Executive Director Julia Bowen, she contacted Frieri and told him to return to the school, where he told school officials, "all they did was drive around and talk," the police report says.
"At the conclusion of this meeting, Frieri was terminated from his position at BArT Charter School and told not to come back onto school grounds," the report reads.
Bowen told police that after the Dec. 11 incident, she learned of two other times Frieri had been seen with Jane in his red 2005 Audi A4, on Dec. 9 and Dec. 12, the day after he was fired.
The suspicions were passed on to DCF and the Berkshire District Attorney's Office but no charges appear to have ever been filed.
A member of the BArT community reached out to iBerkshires.com in late August after news of Frieri's appointment as principal at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School was reported in an article in the Berkshire Eagle.
iBerkshires.com spoke to several other people who were at BArT in December 2008, both on and off the record, before contacting Gosselin, the Lenox superintendent, on Sept. 6, both by phone and by email, attaching a copy of the 2008 Adams Police incident report.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gosselin said he could neither confirm nor deny that Frieri was under investigation by the district before that Sept. 6 inquiry. And he declined to discuss details of the district's internal investigation, citing it as a personnel matter.
Gosselin confirmed that Frieri was placed on leave during the Lenox district's investigation and said the district will not be paying any portion of Frieri's remaining contract as part of a severance agreement.
Gosselin also said Frieri's district email address had not been terminated. iBerkshires.com reached out to Frieri at that email address at 5:27 Tuesday evening seeking comment and left two separate voicemail messages at a number listed for Frieri with an identifying outgoing message that "Sal" could not answer the phone. Neither the messages nor the email were returned at time of publication.
A half-dozen people familiar with Frieri from his time at BArT told iBerkshires.com over the last couple of weeks they believed Frieri and Jane were involved in an inappropriate relationship.
"I had gone on a field trip with some students, and the student in question was sitting in the bus behind me," said Erica Manville, now a school teacher in Holyoke but at the time an art teacher at BArT. "I turned around to speak to her, and she said, 'You know, Mr. Frieri is mine.' So I was thinking, 'It's interesting that you have a crush on a teacher, but that's not appropriate.' She said, 'No, it's not a crush. It's real.' And the student next to her was nodding her head.
"That got me concerned."
Christine Garrity was a paraprofessional at BArT in 2008 and still works at the school as a library and technology assistant.
"I think the one thing that probably disturbed me the most was the kids saying how she was taken across state lines at one point," Garrity said.
Garrity herself saw Frieri pick up Jane after school prior to Dec. 11.
"I was like, 'Dude, what are you doing?' " she said.
Garrity said she reported her concerns to her immediate superior, but she does not know what if any action the school took.
Garrity, like others iBerkshires.com spoke to in reporting this story, said she was upset when she learned Frieri had risen in the ranks of education to the position of principal.
"The fact that he is still in the educational system is ridiculous," she said.
Alexandra Perkins had a similar reaction.
"Immediately, I was like, 'How?' " Perkins said of her reaction to news of Frieri's appointment in Lenox.
In 2008, Perkins was a classmate and friend of Jane's. She said she and her boyfriend at the time socialized with Jane and Frieri at Frieri's house in Pittsfield, where they consumed alcohol.
"They were considered a more serious relationship," Perkins said of Frieri and Jane.
"We went to his house all the time. We would have drinks at his house. We would go to the movies. We'd hang out all the time.
"I was the cover any time she wanted to hang out with Mr. Free," Perkins said, using a nickname that a couple of people recall Frieri allowing students to use.
Perkins, now almost 30, said as a teenager she did not think the relationship between a substitute teacher and high school sophomore was inappropriate.
"Even through my college years, I didn't think too much of it," Perkins said. "Now I'm almost 30 and have step nieces and nephews who are almost 15, and the thought makes me want to throw up. It took me a while to understand, 'Wow, this is not right.' "
Perkins said she is certain that the relationship between Jane and Frieri continued for "at least another year or two."
"I specifically remember [Jane] and I in science class looking up the laws of when she could legally date him," Perkins said. "She didn't want him to get in trouble, so she was trying to confirm the age of consent, I think.
"Sixteen should not be the age of consent. That itself is wild. I'm pretty sure her birthday is in February, so it was close."
The Dec. 18, 2008, Adams Police incident report and a subsequent report on Dec. 19 indicate the APD turned the matter over to DCF, State Police and the Berkshire District Attorney's Office.
iBerkshires.com on Aug. 31 submitted a request for a report from the State Police through the mass.gov website. The State Police have not responded to that request.
This month, through a spokesperson, the Berkshire DA's office said it could neither confirm nor deny whether the December 2008 incident was investigated by the office.
On July 21, the Berkshire Eagle reported Frieri was hired as principal at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School on a three-year contract with a starting salary of $117,000 per year.
"That's my passion, to make sure all students are included and that they receive an equitable education, that they don't just receive a minimum amount and skirt by," the paper quoted Frieri saying in a July 7 community conversation. "They deserve to have a team of cheerleaders who are creating a plan of success for them."
"Students who have special needs deserve access to anything that's offered in middle and high school."
The paper reported Frieri was hired after the abrupt departure of the former principal and the unexplained leave for the former assistant principal.
Gosselin's letter to the community on Tuesday said he and Assistant Principal David Pugh will lead the school while the district searches for an interim principal.
Frieri, 40, formerly was principal at elementary schools in Westfield and Holyoke, the Eagle reported. He also taught for five years at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield, the paper said.
Though he could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening, a letter above Frieri's name did accompany the announcement from Gosselin of the principal's departure.
"Unfortunately, this message is communicating an extremely difficult decision to you all," the letter from Frieri reads. "The fact is, this school deserves every moment of my attention, and I am unable to give it at this time.
"This school and its remarkable faculty, staff, students, and community deserve a full-time presence. For this reason and others, I will take time to take care of my family and myself and request Dr. Gosselin and Mrs. Falkowski to reopen the principal search.
"Similar to what I always tell any teacher or student in such situations, as hard as they are to live through, I have to take care of myself and my family before I can give Lenox what the school deserves.
"I will be cheering your successes from afar and wish you all the best of happiness and fortune, now and always."
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