Accused Mesa teacher was in trouble before - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Accused Mesa teacher was in trouble before

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Posted: Monday, March 15, 2010 8:10 pm | Updated: 3:32 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A music teacher at Mesa’s Brinton Elementary School accused of molesting a student had received a letter of reprimand from the school for another questionable incident in 2002, and other children had complained to their parents about him inappropriately touching them, according to documents in the teacher’s personnel file.

Michael LaMonica, 49, who was arrested about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday on suspicion of two counts of molesting a student, now 12, in 2005 when she was in the second and third grades, according to police. LaMonica now is being held in the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail without bond.

The girl had come forward after receiving information in a sex education class. The girl told police that when she was 7, she would help LaMonica clean the band room, and when they were done, he would place her on the floor before taking her pants and underwear off, according to a Maricopa County Superior Court document.

In 2002, LaMonica had once nicknamed another student “Cute Belly Button Girl,” according to a letter from the girl’s mother to the school’s principal dated Oct. 24, 2002.

That girl, a third-grader, told her parents that LaMonica would ask her if she let boys smooch her on her belly button, which made her feel “funny and weird,” according to the letter.

Another time, when the girl raised her arm in class to answer a question, LaMonica said, “Yes, with the cute armpit,” the letter stated. The girl’s parents voiced concern about LaMonica’s behavior, believed it was inappropriate and asked for it to be taken care of swiftly.

A day before that letter, a parent had written one to the school’s principal to say they were concerned about how LaMonica was relating to their three daughters when they wouldn’t stop complaining about him.

The letter stated, “They tell me that he strokes their hair, or pulls on their ponytails, even when they ask him not to or pull away from him. He constantly teases them about their boyfriends, which annoys them. He also teases them about body parts like bottoms and armpits.”

Then, in February, 2006, a memo was placed in LaMonica’s personnel file regarding a meeting of school officials discussing a concern by parents over their daughter feeling uncomfortable when LaMonica touched her shoulders, head and stomach. The school deemed that touching any part of a student’s body was inappropriate, according to the letter.

LaMonica agreed he would stop the practice and find other ways to assist students in developing good posture and breathing, according to the memo.

He had been teaching at Brinton since 2001, according to school records.

LaMonica, who provided incriminating statements during a confrontational telephone call with the girl regarding last week’s allegations, is denying any wrongdoing to police. The Arizona Board of Education’s investigations unit, which looks into allegations of wrongdoing or education misconduct against state-certified teachers, said it received notification of LaMonica’s arrest on Thursday, the day after it happened, according to Charles Easaw, chief investigator for the Arizona Board of Education. The state board also is conducting its own investigation into LaMonica.

Easaw told the Tribune on Monday that the state board had not received any prior complaints against LaMonica, and he had never been under investigation before. If LaMonica is convicted of the offenses, his teaching license will be revoked, Easaw said.

LaMonica was hired by the Mesa Unified School District on Aug. 26, 1992. He also taught at the district’s Madison, Salk, Edison, and Patterson elementary schools, according to Kathy Bareiss, a district spokeswoman.

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