JPS Teacher Files Suit After 2018 Classroom Incident

A teacher with the Jamestown Public Schools District is seeking repayment for attorney and court fees of at least $2,000 after he was charged in November 2018 for an incident at the school involving a student.

Larry Bentzoni filed a petition on April 11 with the state Supreme Court in Chautauqua County. The suit is the result of a confrontation with a student Nov. 16, 2018, while Bentzoni was a teacher for the district.

According to court records, Bentzoni was teaching a class in a high school computer lab when a student returned from a bathroom break. The student, according to Bentzoni, caused a disruption and began to wander around the room.

The student allegedly swore in the classroom several times, to which Bentzoni replied to the class, “Have you ever seen a teacher kick a student’s (expletive)?”

Bentzoni said he then “put his hands on (the student’s) back, between his shoulder blades, and attempted to guide (the student) back to his seat.”

The student responded by saying “Get your (expletive) hand off me (expletive),” before leaving the classroom.

After the incident, assistant principal Leslie Melquist reportedly came to the computer lab and asked Bentzoni if he had touched the student. Bentzoni acknowledged he had put a hand on the student’s back, to which Melquist said the student does not like any form of contact.

Bentzoni, who is being represented by Jamestown attorney Peter Pillittieri on the criminal charges, said he was not made aware of the student’s special needs.

After the incident, the student’s father filed a complaint against Bentzoni with the school’s resource officer and the Jamestown Police Department allegeding that Bentzoni had struck his child on the back of the neck and twice across the face without provocation.

Bentzoni was charged Nov. 19 by Jamestown police with endangering the welfare of a child and second-degree harassment. Police issued a press release Nov. 20 announcing the charges with the location of the incident as the high school.

Bentzoni appeared in Jamestown City Court on Nov. 20. The following day, according to court records, an order of protection was temporarily issued against Bentzoni.

Jamestown Superintendent Bret Apthorpe said Bentzoni is not currently working with students but remains an employee at the district’s administration building.

“While those investigations are underway, schools can, and often do, continue to have those people work, but they have them work on curriculum or materials related to areas of their expertise. And they do that in the district office until investigations have concluded,” Apthorpe told The Post-Journal.

Asked about the specifics of the claim, Apthorpe said, “The only thing I can comment about (Bentzoni) is he’s still an employee of the district and that he’s not working directly with students. He’s working here in the central office. … We typically wait for the outcome and findings before we determine what our next steps are.”

According to a copy of a court record included in the filing, Bentzoni pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. He is scheduled to appear in court May 7 for sentencing in front of City Court Judge John LaMancuso.

On Jan. 31, Bentzoni completed an anger management course at a cost of $90.

On Feb. 26, Bentzoni asked LaMancuso to amend the order of protection to allow him to return to the school.

Bentzoni said he has paid $2,000 for legal representation thus far in the case. In a letter sent to the school district on Nov. 26, 2018, Bentzoni requested “defense and indemnification” from JPS. He was notified around Dec. 13, 2018, through the district’s director of human resources, John Panebianco, that he would not receive district assistance.

Bentzoni in his suit claims that as a tenured teacher, he should be compensated for costs incurred in defending himself “for actions taken during the discharge of his duties within the scope of his employment.”

John Whittaker contributed to this story.