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Battle Not Over for Educator Cleared of Sex Charges

December 3, 1987

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (AP) _ Nearly three years after accusations of sexual misconduct threw Joseph Escobedo’s life into turmoil, the former elementary school principal is trying to pick up the pieces of his career.

The 52-year-old educator said Thursday he is overjoyed that a 12-year-old girl who accused him of fondling her has recanted her story. But his battle for full acceptance is not over.

Escobedo, who spent 20 years with the Denver school district before being suspended in 1985, is petitioning the school board there to be reinstated as an elementary school principal.

The board said Wednesday without elaboration that he would not be rehired. However, he has retained a lawyer to press the case. Escobedo lost his Massachusetts teaching job in June after the allegations caught up with him, and he said he has no firm prospects of a new position soon.

Escobedo said he decided to tell what happened only after girl’s parents went public with the truth last week.

″It was a horrendous ordeal and very trying on myself and my family,″ he said. ″It is a very difficult thing to fight.

″A youngster says something, and it becomes an emotional issue, and you have no recourse, even though you haven’t been charged with anything.″

Escobedo said his ordeal started innocuously in early 1985, after he helped the girl off a piece of playground equipment.

″She alleged that I had touched her on the playground,″ he said. ″The allegation is just there and without substance, but it provides that cloud that just hangs over you, and you can’t do anything about it.″

Two other children subsequently complained that they also had been touched by Escobedo. He was suspended.

Escobedo suggested the children could have been influenced by a lecture on child abuse held just before the accusations were leveled.

As an educator, ″you can’t operate on not being a touching person to kids,″ he said. ″Kids, especially small kids, are always running up to teachers and putting their arms around them.

″It’s nature, and you can’t say, ’Don’t touch me, get away from me.‴

Although investigations found no basis for legal action, Escobedo said he decided to quit under pressure.

″I had been cleared by the police, by the Social Services Department,″ he said. ″But it was such an emotional issue that in the end I was just swept away, and in the end, frustration led me to resign.″

Escape to New England didn’t help.

While Escobedo was in his second year of teaching in Framingham, ″some reporter in Denver ... called here and asked the superintendent, was he aware that I had resigned under an allegation,″ he said. ″The superintendent called me in and fired me for not revealing the allegation.″

After filing a $2 million grievance in October 1986, Escobedo was permitted to finish the rest of the school year. Superintendent Rigas Rigopoulous, now retired, decided not to retain Escobedo when his contract expired despite support from colleagues and parents. Rigopoulos’ successor, Eugene Thayer, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

″In all fairness, they should get in touch with him and offer him the option of interview for a job,″ said Linda Romero, president of the town’s parents and teachers organization, whose daughter, Maria, was in Escobedo’s class last year.

″It was devastating for the kids when he left,″ she said. ″The whole class cried at the end of the year. They couldn’t understand how his dismissal happened.″

Richard Kennedy, principal at Woodrow Wilson School, where Escobedo last taught, said he was disappointed that his recommendation to retain Escobado was ignored.

Escobedo said he harbors no ill feelings despite the ordeal. Nor does his wife of 18 years, a fellow teacher who asked not to be identified by name.

″I certainly feel a sense of relief,″ she said. ″But in our heart of hearts, we have been hoping ... for exoneration from the very beginning.″

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