Chappaqua district seeks to force Greeley graduate to testify against teacher, track coach

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Lohud’s investigative reporter Jorge Fitz-Gibbon discusses the Horace Greeley High School criminal and civil cases involving former teacher Christopher Schraufnagel on July 12, 2016.
Video by Ricky Flores/The Journal News

The Chappaqua school district has gone to court to try to force a former student to testify about an alleged inappropriate relationship with a teacher at Horace Greeley High School, The Journal News/lohud has learned.

The upscale district, still reeling from a sex scandal surrounding former drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel, has filed a request for a state Supreme Court subpoena that names a recent graduate as the subject of the allegations against Matthew Ketterer, a tenured social studies teacher and track coach who has been placed on paid leave.

The district wanted the student, whose name is being withheld by The Journal News/lohud because of the nature of the allegations, to testify this week in Ketterer’s administrative hearing. The student’s lawyer, Julie Gaughran, said it didn’t happen.

Ketterer’s attorney, Mitchell Rubinstein, with Sapri Schragin in White Plains, said the allegations were untrue, and “based upon gossip and rumor.”

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“The school board cannot prove the charges and they know it,” Rubinstein said. “The school board brought this case because of an earlier unrelated case involving Christopher Schraufnagel.”

‘Overreaction’

Chappaqua officials came under heavy criticism for their handling of the Schraufnagel case, which forced former schools Superintendent Lyn McKay to resign.

The former drama teacher pleaded guilty this year to charges that he sexually abused three students. Seven civil lawsuits allege that Schraufnagel ran a cloistered theater program that included drinking, smoking and sexual acts involving students.

Records show Schraufnagel received favorable performance reviews for years, even as the alleged misconduct flourished behind closed doors.

Gaughran, who represents the student who was subpoenaed in the Ketterer case, said the district was “overreacting” in the current case.

“I think that this case is based on rumor and innuendo and, in my view, it’s an overreaction by the school district, probably because they under-reacted in the past in serious matters,” said Gaughran, who also represents one of the students suing the district and Schraufnagel in that case. “They’re trying to, I think, rehabilitate their image. That’s what I think this case is about.”

But David Shaw, who represents the school district in the matter, said he only requested the court-ordered subpoena because an earlier subpoena issued by the school district “does not have the enforcement authority of a so-ordered court subpoena.”

“We were interested in having the witness testify in the proceedings that are referred to in the court papers in a certain time frame and sequence,” Shaw said. “The proceedings that are referred to in the papers are private, so we’re not at liberty to divulge anything about the proceedings.”

Administrative hearing

Ketterer was hired by the district in 2006 and tenured in 2009. He was a popular social studies teacher at Horace Greeley High School, coached the school’s track and field teams, and was an assistant cross-country coach.

The allegations against him were revealed in court filings last week.

The records show that Chappaqua commenced a disciplinary action against Ketterer under New York State Education Law, and issued an administrative subpoena to compel the student to testify on Dec. 11.

Gaughran questioned the district’s authority to compel her client’s testimony in a subsequent email, and said the student would not be available to testify this week, as the district demanded.

In a subsequent document filed Dec. 18, Chappaqua officials identified the student by name, and said the student “is a subject of the allegations underlying the charges brought against the charged party in the matter.”

The school district wrote that the student’s testimony was “crucial to due process.”

Gaughran said her client was out of the country and did not attend the hearing.

The hearing came just days after New Castle Town Justice Douglas Kraus ordered Schraufnagel, the former drama teacher, to register as a Level 3 sex offender as part of his sentence for abusing three former students at the high school. 

Schraufnagel

The Schraufnagel case led to allegations of inappropriate conduct with students that lasted years, according to civil claims filed against the district.

Schraufnagel, who taught at Horace Greeley since 2003, was suspended on June 15, 2015, after a former student reported to school officials that he had an inappropriate relationship with the teacher.

New Castle police charged Schraufnagel with sexual abuse four months later, alleging that he sexually abused three students.

In the months that followed, seven current and former Chappaqua students filed civil lawsuits against the district and Schraufnagel, including a claim in federal court in which Gaughran represents a student who alleges he had a five-year relationship with the ex-teacher. 

Schraufnagel pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced to probation in May. 

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Chappaqua Central School District parents protesting last year over the school board’s handling of the scandal surrounding former Horace Greeley High School drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel. (Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Twitter: @jfitzgibbon

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