A Denver Public Schools substitute teacher is speaking out for the first time since his apparent involvement in a scuffle with a 7th grade student at Hamilton Middle School. The incident was caught on cell phone video by another student.
“I wanted to make sure that my character was not brought down because of a child that was fighting a classroom,” Richard Sommese said.
Sommese said the video does not capture the whole story. He said he has worked with DPS for more than two years through the district’s Guest Teacher Program; he said he was at the middle school for about five weeks, working as an assistant to a skilled teacher in another classroom and was asked to step in on a reading class.
“I said sure, that’s what I always say,” Sommese said. “The truth is I saved a child from getting hurt.”
Sommese said after verbal commands were ignored, he physically broke up two children who were fighting near a student with a hearing impairment, claiming he had to call security once during the class for a separate incident.
The student who took the cell phone video did not describe a fight, rather said one student was chasing another around the room; the student did not know if Sommese verbally told the students to stop before getting physically involved.
Police were called after the incident, though no charges were filed. Sommese is on leave while the district investigates what went wrong.
A DPS spokesperson declined to comment or verify Sommese’s time with the school citing it as a confidential personnel matter, but released a statement outlining a portion of the district’s policy. It reads:
There are many reasons that police and/or the District Attorney’s office may not pursue criminal charges. For this reason, Denver Public Schools does not decide to pursue corrective action based on the police and/or the District Attorney’s decision, but rather based on our own exacting standards for student safety.
In order to determine whether these standards have been met, we conduct internal investigations. DPS first provides appropriate legal instructions. District officials then direct an employee to take part in an internal investigation. If an employee refuses, we retain the right to terminate their employment.