Court documents detail 'inappropriate' behavior of teacher

May 7, 2018

Rochester Memorial School sixth-grade teacher James Sullivan has been placed on indefinite administrative leave after female students alleged that he touched them inappropriately and made them feel uncomfortable.

Sullivan, 35, of Fairhaven, turned himself in to police on May 5, following a police investigation on May 4. He was charged with assault and battery, and assault and battery on a child under age 14.

Sullivan was arraigned on May 7 and posted his $10,040 bail.

The report of Rochester Police Sergeant Robert Small stated that police investigated after Rochester Memorial School Principal Derek Medeiros called the department, saying that a student at the school had accused Sullivan of touching her inappropriately. Medeiros also advised Small that there might be more than one student involved.

According to Small's report, three Rochester Memorial students, whose names are being withheld for privacy, had disclosed the information to two Countryside Childcare workers. The mother of one student also sent an email voicing her concerns. Countryside Childcare leases space at Rochester Memorial School.

The Rochester Police Department contacted the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families as mandated reporters after learning of the allegations.

The students reported several incidents which they found "weird" in Sullivan's classroom, the court documents say. Among the most alarming was that on May 1, Sullivan had placed his hand on one of the student's buttocks and left it there while talking to her about a math problem. When asked if the student thought the touching was unintentional, she said no.

Court documents also reported that the students said Sullivan would routinely take video of them on his iPad while they did hand stands, splits and other gymnastic movements. One of the students reported that Sullivan "asked her to do a back bend for a video while she was wearing a short shirt, and she felt 'weird,'  because she knew he was trying to film her stomach."

The iPad and another device supplied to Sullivan by the school were turned over to police and are being held as evidence.

The students reported in the court documents that Sullivan would approach them from behind and push them forward toward their desks, describing the action as a "hug from behind."  One of the students reported that during one instance of this, he told her, "Nobody else will ever see this." The students said that they had seen Sullivan do the same thing to many girls, but that he had never done it to any of the boys in the class.

According to the students, Sullivan also placed several of his female students in the trash or recycling bins, even when they asked him not to. At first they said, they found it "silly," but now it was just "weird."

The students reiterated in the court documents that Sullivan only touched the girls. They said that often the girls' desks were placed closer to Sullivan's desk than the boys' were, and when asked why, Sullivan told the students, "I prefer the girls."

When Sullivan was arrested, he chose to make no comment until he could contact and employ an attorney.

Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Doug White said of the arrest, "We have and will continue to cooperate fully with the Rochester Police Department and other state agencies. In addition, the district immediately commenced an internal investigation of the allegations. We continue to remain committed to our efforts to ensure a safe learning environment," he added, "including the physical and emotional well-being of our students and staff. School personnel and resources have been made available to support our students. "

Due to the nature of the investigation, White said, no further information from the school district will be released at this time.