NEW YORK – A Harlem elementary school teacher who admitted to shoving a 7-year-old student will continue to draw his salary as he serves 30 days in the city’s main jail complex on Rikers Island.
Osman Couey, 55, as sentenced to a month at Rikers after a two-day bench trial in Manhattan Criminal Court over a Dec. 23, 2015 incident at PS 194 involving 7-year-old special education student Ka’veon Wilson, the New York Post reports.
Couey took the stand Wednesday, when he told Judge Steven Statsinger that he shoved the boy into the legs of school psychologist Steven Castiglia after Wilson showed up to math class with a tray of cupcakes and refused to sit down.
The situation caused other students to come “unglued,” Couey said, so he forced the boy out of class and locked the classroom door. Wilson allegedly yelled and kicked the door to be let back in, and when Couey opened the door, the student attempted to crawl back in and Couey pushed back, according to the news site.
“He got into a fighting stance because he is going to take matters into his own hands,” Assistant District Attorney Chloe Kendall told the court, according to the New York Daily News. “He showed this child that it is ok to push other people.”
Alex Lombard, Couey’s lawyer, argued that his client was justified in shoving the child.
“You’re allowed to use reasonable force to maintain discipline in the school system,” he said.
But it wasn’t the first time the teacher faced accusations of excessive force with students.
According to the Post:
In 25 years, Couey has been investigated for four other incidents — two were substantiated. In 2014, he allegedly used “inappropriate language” in front of a student and a few days later grabbed the shirt of a child who’d taken his pencil.
Couey was also accused of throwing a 7-year-old down a flight of stairs in 2013.
Couey was ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor for endangering the welfare of a child, and a violation of harassment in the second degree.
Statsinger cited Couey’s questionable history when he ignored the prosecutor’s recommendation for community service and anger management, and instead sentenced the veteran teacher Thursday to 30 in jail.
“This was an unjustified use of force,” Statsinger said. “Teachers who manhandle students like this need some serious punishment.”
As he was led away in handcuffs, Couey told the media he thought Statsinger’s sentence was “very fair.”
“I like the ADA’s recommendation better, but the maximum sentence is 90 days so I have to say it could have been worse.”
A city Department of Education spokesperson confirmed to the Post that Couey will continue to collect his salary while serving his sentence. The government transparency site See Through NY shows Couey’s current salary is $105,754.
Teachers union protections make the continued pay possible. The due process protections for tenured teachers also ensure Couey will have a job in the district after he serves his sentence.
Wilson’s family is livid about the situation, of course, and they held a press conference to urge city officials to do something about it, PIX 11 reports.
“This is not how the school system is supposed to work, and this is not acceptable,” the boy’s mother, Chantel Phinazee, said. “For him to go back in a classroom and work with kids after he gets out of jail, and still being paid his salary, I’m not for it.
“My son needs justice.”
City officials allege they’re attempting to fire Couey, but Phinazee isn’t waiting for them to follow through. She filed a $5.5 million lawsuit against the city on behalf of her son, who no longer trusts male role models and now sees a psychologist daily.
The family has since moved to Schenectady, she told the Daily News.
“I’m beyond disgusted with the Department of Education, the principal of the school and the superintendent . . . they said they were going to take care of this,” Phinzaee said.
“He shouldn’t be able to work around children again,” she told the Daily News. “He did this to other children and should not get a chance to do this again … This is an outrage.”