LENOX — The principal of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School who resigned this week was being investigated by the district for allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old student more than a decade ago at a previous job.
Salvatore Frieri, who was hired in July, was recently put on administrative leave after the Lenox Public Schools district learned that he was fired from his substitute teaching position at Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams over the allegations.
According to an incident report by the Adams Police Department, Frieri was investigated in 2008 for statutory rape of a child. Charges were never filed against him, and in a text to The Eagle on Wednesday, Frieri defended his record as an educator.
“I have had no discipline of any kind in any subsequent position and I stand by my record as a teacher, coach, and principal,” he wrote. “I am not going to respond to comments in an online outlet from people who say they remember something someone said about me 14 years ago especially when I have over a decade of positive, impactful public service in the public eye.”
News of the 2008 investigation was first reported by the online publication iBerkshires.
Lenox Superintendent Marc Gosselin said Frieri would not have been hired if the district knew about the allegations. “We wouldn’t even have considered him as a candidate,” he said.
Lenox school officials found out about the allegations earlier this month, but Gosselin declined to say how they were notified. He also said he couldn’t comment on any findings from the district’s investigation.
“I can’t say what the results were other than during the process Mr. Frieri elected to resign on his own accord,” Gosselin said. “When we vet candidates, we do background checks to state and federal criminal databases.”
But if there is no finding of criminal activity, an allegation would not surface, Gosselin said. “Sometimes there are things that slip through the cracks.”
The investigation at BART was launched in December 2008 after school officials reported an alleged inappropriate relationship between Frieri and a 15-year-old female student to police and the state Department of Children and Families.
That month, the student was seen in Frieri’s car, a violation of school policy, the school’s then-director, Julia Bowen, told Adams police at the time. Frieri, who is 40 but was 27 at the time, drove the student home to Clarksburg, but the trip took two hours.
“All they did was drive around and talk,” Bowen said that Frieri told her. He was fired and asked not to visit school property, Bowen told police.
At two other times, a school staff member also reported seeing Frieri and the girl in his car, and her foster parent reported the girl was dropped off at home in a red Audi, the same car Frieri drove, according to a police report.
Adams police recommended the investigation be handled by the state police because the case spanned multiple jurisdictions and a lot of time was likely spent outside Adams. A state police spokesperson referred questions from The Eagle about the investigation to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.
“If this case was investigated by the State Police it would most likely have been done by the Unit attached to the Berkshire DA’s Office,” that spokesperson wrote in an email.
Andy McKeever, spokesman for Berkshire DA Andrea Harrington, wrote in an email that he “cannot speak to anything that happened prior to the current administration.”
No charges were filed against Frieri in District or Superior court, according to a search of the court record database.
Frieri said the school found he was not in compliance with their rules, which led to him being fired, but that police found no wrongdoing. When asked for documentation from reports that cleared allegations, he said he didn’t hold on to it.
“It came back clear and I just moved on with my life,” he said.
After Frieri’s termination from BART, he worked at several other schools in the region. He served as principal of Munger Hill Elementary, a K-4 public school in Westfield. He previously was a K-8 principal in the Holyoke Public Schools and an English, math and science teacher at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield from 2009-14.
When asked if the district was notified about the allegations from his time at BART, Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Curtis said he was in a different position in the district at the time and not involved in hiring. The current human resources director was also not in her position at the time.
David Pugh, the recently appointed assistant principal, and Gosselin will serve as the school leaders in the wake of Frieri’s resignation until an interim principal is found.