Lyman Hall gym teacher resigned after student complaints of sexual harassment

Lyman Hall gym teacher resigned after student complaints of sexual harassment

Record-Journal
reporter photo

WALLINGFORD  — A Lyman Hall High School teacher resigned last year following an investigation by the school district into sexual harassment allegations made by several students. Members of the school community have since come forward criticizing some faculty and administrators for failing to take action on prior complaints regarding the teacher. 

The school district began investigating physical education teacher Jason Zettergren in June after two students approached Lyman Hall’s administration alleging Zettergren made lewd and inappropriate comments to students.

“Information was provided to the administration about Mr. Zettergren, and the district immediately initiated an investigation in collaboration with the police and placed the teacher on administrative leave,” School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said in response to an inquiry from the Record-Journal.

Zettergren was placed on paid leave on June 12 and later agreed to resign effective Dec. 31, according to a resignation agreement obtained by the Record-Journal through a Freedom of Information request. 

Zettergren, a Meriden resident, started his teaching career in Wallingford in 2002 and is a 1994 graduate of Lyman Hall. 

School officials declined to comment on specific allegations against Zettergren. Former students, however, gave the Record-Journal accounts of Zettergren making inappropriate comments to students while teaching. Some graduates declined to speak on the record for this story out of fear of repercussions.

“He would make snark comments when girls would squat in the gym or bend over while playing sports,” 2017 graduate Skylar Anderson said. 

Anderson said she was one of “at least 10” students interviewed by school officials and police as part of the investigation last June. 

“The day before graduation, I was pulled into the school’s office to talk about the situation,” Anderson said. “I gave a statement because my name was mentioned by other girls who were uncomfortable with the way he was acting towards me and the other girls.”

Lyman Hall Principal Joseph Corso, who became principal in 2015, did not return repeated requests for comment. 

Accusations of misconduct against Zettergren go back several years, according to former students.  

Jake Scatton, a 2010 Lyman Hall graduate, said Zettergren “was just plain unprofessional in topics he would openly discuss with students, including myself.”

Another 2017 graduate, who declined to be named, recalled Zettergren talking with students about topics such as sex and drugs. 

“There has been occasions where he would ask students about their sex lives,” the 2017 graduate said. 

Other graduates, who declined to be named, said they didn’t recall Zettergren behaving inappropriately. 

In response to an inquiry from the Record-Journal, Zettergren said in an email, “I don’t have much to say other than I resigned for personal reasons.”

Zettergren did not respond to a follow-up email from the Record-Journal asking him to address allegations of misconduct made by former students. 

Teachers’ union president Lou Faiella said the union has a policy of not commenting on personnel issues.

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According to Zettergren’s personnel file, the district first looked into allegations last June, when school officials swiftly placed Zettergren on leave after multiple students came forward alleging Zettergren acted inappropriately toward them and classmates. 

However, some graduates have come forward criticizing administrators and faculty for not taking action prior to June. 

The two students who initiated the investigation said in a letter to the Lyman Hall administration that they previously tried to raise concerns about Zettergren’s behavior to Lyman Hall staff, but their concerns were “always dismissed.”

“There’s always rumors and most are actually true, but no one ever looks into them,” the students’ letter stated. 

They continued, Zettergren “has put himself out there in very unprofessional and inappropriate ways. Of course we have wanted to tell someone sooner and we have actually told other teachers, but it is always dismissed…Someone needs to take action because even in the past four years it has all escalated like a lot. Mr. Zettergren is out of line, inappropriate, unprofessional and this should not be overlooked.”

The letter included a list of 20 allegations of misconduct against Zettergren, including several lewd and inappropriate comments made about students and other teachers, as well as sharing inappropriate details about his personal life.  

The mother of one of the students provided the letter to the Record-Journal. She also said she sent an email to a faculty member in 2015 alleging Zettegren made inappropriate comments to her daughter about his “sexual experiences.”

In the email exchange, the faculty member indicated she discussed Zettergren’s comments with the daughter’s guidance counselor, who confronted Zettergren and told him “he shouldn’t be sharing personal information like he did with any student,” according to the mother, who declined to provide the faculty member’s name. 

“I don’t think anyone’s daughter should be around him,” the mother told the Record-Journal. 

The 2017 graduate said Zettergren’s misconduct was “definitely known by most teachers and students” at Lyman Hall. The graduate said she spoke with three teachers at the school about Zettergren’s behavior, but her concerns were never reported. One teacher told the graduate and other classmates that “if we want something done about it we need to talk about it to higher” administrators. 

Under the state law on mandatory reporters, lewd comments made by a teacher to a student would “absolutely” need to be reported to the state Department of Children and Families, said department spokesman Gary Kleeblatt. 

Kleeblatt said DCF wants mandatory reporters, a group that includes teachers and school officials, to “err on the side of caution and to report to the (DCF) care line when they have even a suspicion” of child abuse or neglect. Kleeblatt said state law doesn’t allow him to comment on whether DCF received past complaints against Zettergren.

Police Chief William Wright said the department did not investigate any criminal complaints against Zettergren prior June.

Police spokeswoman Lt. Cheryl Bradley said police assisted the school district’s investigation in June, but “determined there was nothing criminal in nature.”

“Not that nothing happened, but it didn’t rise to the level of a criminal charge,” Bradley said.

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Scatton, the 2010 graduate, reports meeting with Menzo and David Bryant, former Lyman Hall principal, in 2013 about lewd comments Zettergren allegedly made while teaching.

“I have spoken with a therapist and have realized teachers leave wounds,” Scatton wrote in an email to Menzo and Bryant dated Sept. 12, 2013. “Aside from that, there was some inappropriate behavior regarding one teacher in particular. I would like to bring this to your attention.”

On one occasion, Scatton said Zettergren “discussed a topic regarding oral sex and made a hand motion relative to the topic.” On another occasion, Scatton recalled showing Zettergren a picture of an 18-year-old female cousin, to which Zettergren replied Scatton’s cousin was very attractive. When Scatton told Zettergren the cousin was only 18, Zettergren said his comment was fine because she was a legal adult, Scatton recalled.

Scatton met with Menzo and Bryant on Sept. 17, 2013, in the district’s former central offices at the Hall Elton Building on South Cherry Street, according to an email Bryant sent in response to Scatton’s initial email. Scatton provided the emails to the Record-Journal for this story.

Scatton reports addressing Zettergren’s behavior with both Menzo and Bryant during the meeting and that the two administrators told Scatton they would investigate. 

Menzo and Bryant said they recalled meeting with Scatton in 2013, but did not recall any specific complaints against Zettergren.

In an email, Menzo said Scatton did discuss “perceptions of some teachers and feedback about their teaching style.” Bryant said in an email, Scatton raised general concerns about teachers “but I do not recall anything specific to Jason Zettergren.”

Scatton insists specifics regarding Zettergren were discussed. Scatton recalls providing Menzo and Bryant with a handwritten letter detailing Zettergren's behavior, which Scatton said Menzo and Bryant photocopied and filed at the time. 

Menzo and Bryant checked their records for the photocopied complaint, but Menzo said neither found “any complaint (handwritten or otherwise) from Jake regarding Mr. Zettergren.”

Zettergren’s personnel file did not include any documents regarding the 2013 meeting with Scatton.

Bryant said he does not recall receiving “any complaints from faculty, students, or parents regarding Mr. Zettergren” during his time as principal.

In 2013, the Board of Education appointed Zettergren as team leader for health and physical education at Lyman Hall. He was reappointed in 2014 and 2015.

Former Lyman Hall High School Physical Education Teacher Jason Zettegren says he resigned for personal reasons.

Zettergren is certified as a physical education teacher in Connecticut, according to the state Department of Education. His certification was last renewed in September 2016 and expires in September 2021. Zettergren has not been hired by any other Connecticut school districts after resigning in Wallingford, Department of Education spokesman Peter Yazbak said. 

Many students liked having Zettergren as a teacher because they perceived his willingness to talk about subjects like sex and drugs as a way to relate and build a rapport, graduates recalled.

“He was very inappropriate, but he was friendly and built relationships with the students,” Anderson said. “He made it feel as if it was OK because he wasn’t just a teacher, he was a friend.”

Anderson said Zettergren’s behavior “didn’t bother me much because I honestly thought it was a joke, but once I knew that he was serious, I was offended and disgusted.”

Other students who were disturbed by Zettergren’s behavior said they feared the repercussions of coming forward to report him. The two students who triggered the investigation said in the letter to Lyman Hall’s administration that they waited to come forward until days before their graduation to avoid facing Zettergren. 

“We write to you because we are graduating and no longer care,” the letter stated. “...Going against (Zettergren) as a student would have resulted in being awkwardly questioned as well as having to face him.”

Within 24 hours of the students coming forward, authorities interviewed the students and Zettergren was placed on leave, the mother said.

Menzo met with Zettergren on June 12 to discuss an “investigation of certain matters related to your conduct as an employee in this school district,” Menzo said in a letter to Zettergren dated June 13. Menzo placed Zettergren on leave during the meeting, which was also attended by Corso and Lyman Hall faculty member Patricia Campbell, according to the letter. Zettergren remained on leave until his resignation took effect Dec. 31. 

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