Abuse in the classroom at Rhame Avenue

Probe concludes East Rockaway teacher ‘humiliated and intimidated’ students


A tenured teacher at Rhame Avenue Elementary School was fired recently after a lengthy investigation found her guilty of verbally abusing students on several occasions during the 2012-13 and 2014-15 school years.

District administrators began an inquiry into fourth-grade inclusion class teacher Stavroula Gretes-Coyle’s classroom behavior in the spring of 2014, according to a statement from East Rockaway School District Superintendent Lisa Ruiz.

Hearing officer Lisa Brogan found 15 instances in which Gretes-Coyle acted inappropriately. It was determined that she “engaged in a course of conduct in which she humiliated and/or intimidated her students and caused students to cry,” according to a 93-page investigation summary obtained by the Herald.

Ruiz said that as a result, Gretes-Coyle faced disciplinary charges in accordance with New York state education law, which allows tenured educators to be terminated for “just cause.” After hearing testimony from students, teachers, school faculty and administrators, Brogan recommended that Gretes-Coyle be fired at a hearing on Jan. 19. The Board of Education upheld the decision at its Jan. 24 meeting.

“In doing so, the board sent a clear message that the district is committed to providing a warm and welcoming environment in which all students can feel safe and comfortable coming to school every day,” Ruiz said.

According to the investigation, Gretes-Coyle, who started teaching at the school in 1999, once frightened her students by telling them that their poor behavior constituted a crime and threatened to call police. She also threw a notebook at a student because she was not pleased with the student’s work, yelled at parents in public and acted unprofessionally toward the school psychologist.

Neither Gretes-Coyle nor her lawyer could be reached for comment as of press time.

One parent, who declined to be identified, said she was relieved to see action taken by the district, but it came after her own child suffered. She said that there were multiple times when Gretes-Coyle yelled at her son, who is on medication for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. She said that in one instance the teacher called him “a retard,” and in another she implied that he made a homoerotic gesture toward a fellow male student in front of the class.

“It was like a whirlwind for him,” the mother said of Gretes-Coyle’s actions. “He was 9 years old. I basically knew she was abusing him. It was horrible.”

The woman said that Coyle was not mean to every student, and that she played favorites. She noted that although many other parents eventually learned of the teacher’s behavior, she had trouble getting anyone to believe her when the incidents began. “Nobody was really behind me, in a sense, because they didn’t know what was happening,” she explained. 

Her son is now in high school, and still struggles — something his mother attributes to the negative experiences he had while in fourth grade. She also said that one former student of Gretes-Coyle told her mother that she wanted to kill herself because she was depressed by the teacher’s treatment.

Despite everything, the parent praised Ruiz for her swift action. “The superintendent is amazing,” she said. “She was supportive. She made things happen. She heard everybody’s story. She was compassionate about it. She couldn’t have a teacher in this district do things like that.”

Another parent, who also declined to be identified, said that the treatment her daughter received was “really bad,” but did not want to speak about it further.

This was not the first time Gretes-Coyle was involved in controversy in the district. In the fall of 2013, state officials accused her of helping students answer questions on state tests the previous spring. During that probe, she was removed from her classroom for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year and assigned to writing lesson plans at the high school. Though she was exonerated in June 2014, the district kept her out of the classroom during the 2014-15 school year.

According to Newsday, Gretes-Coyle claimed in 2014 that the district was punishing her because her students were scoring well above district averages on state tests. Under the state’s job-evaluation system, Gretes-Coyle was rated “highly effective,” but many of her students failed to maintain their high marks when they moved up to fifth grade. That, she said, hurt their fifth-grade teachers’ evaluation and the school’s as a whole.

in September 2015, Gretes-Coyle sued Victoria Trum, the vice president of the Parent Teacher Association, and Tara Elias, whose child attended the school, for defamation. Gretes-Coyle claimed that Trum said at a public PTA meeting in June 2014 that Gretes-Coyle “makes children cry every day,” and that Elias told Trum and a teacher in the school that Gretes-Coyle was a “compulsive and pathological liar,” according to State Supreme Court documents. The case is ongoing.

Parents expressed relief that she was dismissed, but some could not understand why the situation lasted so long. “I was happy, but I was also sad because it just made me realize that — I knew it really happened, but I just couldn’t believe it happened and couldn’t believe it took that long,” said one parent, who chose to remain anonymous. “I’m so happy that she’ll never hurt another child like that again.”