Haverhill High teacher linked to sexual misconduct investigation resigns

CARL RUSSO/Staff file photoZachary Simmons, shown here in a 2013 photo, has resigned from his position as a Haverhill High School teacher. 

A Haverhill High teacher linked to an investigation by the School Department and state into sexual misconduct has resigned. 

Superintendent Margaret Marotta said Zachary Simmons submitted a letter of resignation Oct. 2. A job posting for his position of history and social studies teacher went online last week, with applications being accepted immediately.

When reached by a reporter by phone early Friday night, Simmons said he had no comment.

As news of Simmons' resignation is made public, Marotta said the investigation "concerning allegations about the culture at Haverhill High made by young women" is continuing and will extend several years prior to the administrations of both her and current Haverhill High Principal Glenn Burns. Marotta also said the investigation is examining the conduct of school personnel other than Simmons and is looking into Haverhill High's social culture in terms of interaction between staff and students.

The state Department of Children and Families has investigated the matter, but is releasing no details about the probe.

A popular teacher and club advisor, Simmons worked at Haverhill High for 11 years, Marotta said. He served as advisor for the Model United Nations Club and other student activities, including the Mr. HHS pageant. As the Model United Nations advisor, Simmons traveled with students to New York City, where they competed in mock debates with students from across the region and country.

Simmons has also worked in the Masconomet Regional School District.

On Aug. 31, Simmons was placed on paid administrative leave from his Haverhill High job. At the time, Burns would not identify Simmons by name or give a reason for the leave, saying only that it involved a teacher and that Haverhill High has "zero tolerance for sexual misconduct.'' 

Three days later, a spokesperson for the state Department of Children and Families said the agency received a report about the Haverhill High situation and had begun an investigation. The agency spokesperson said this week that DCF investigated and has made a recommendation to the Essex District Attorney's office.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said no criminal charges are currently pending against Simmons. 

Current and former students of Haverhill High have used social media to say they experienced uncomfortable interactions with Simmons in the past.

As the social media outcry grew louder, a group of city residents calling themselves Time's Up Haverhill demanded Simmons be fired. A petition was circulated online and garnered nearly 400 signatures. The group went public at the Sept. 3 School Committee meeting with a request for the school administration to release Simmons' personnel file and take action to increase transparency involving incidents of misconduct and abuse at Haverhill High.

The district has hired the law firm of Stoneman, Chandler and Miller to assist with an investigation into "allegations posted on Facebook and social media,'' Marotta said.

"Every allegation of any sexual misconduct or misbehavior of any type by our employees is taken very seriously," Mayor James Fiorentini, who is chairman of the School Committee, said when the Time's Up Haverhill group made its demands. "The investigation will be a full, fair and impartial investigation.

"We should also take a look at our policies and our training to see if either needs to be updated or improved,'' Fiorentini said. "If people have allegations or claims, they should contact the School Department. Everyone, including our teachers, are entitled to fairness and due process. No one should ever be disciplined and certainly not terminated based on information on social media or a petition. There is a process set forth by law. If we violate that process, the city may be subject to liability. We must follow the process."

Marotta said the investigation being conducted by the School Department will extend back several years and review all personnel at the high school.

"We are looking into what occurred prior to my administration as well," said Marotta, who has been Haverhill superintendent since 2018. "In the two years I've been here, there have not been any uninvestigated concerns or complaints of sexual misconduct or sexual communications between staff and students. We need a safe environment for our students, and any kind of sexual misconduct cannot be tolerated."

 

 

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