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Alleged Child Sex Abuser Admitted to Worcester Elementary School

By Tom Marino | March 13, 2024
Last Updated: March 19, 2024

WORCESTER – A retired Worcester Public Schools (WPS) principal and former School Committee member for 16 years, John Monfredo, was inside a Worcester elementary school on March 1, reading to students. Monfredo has been accused of sexual assault of a minor over three years, starting when she was nine years old.

Heather Prunier first made the allegations that Monfredo sexually assaulted her to a teacher in 1996. She was interviewed by law enforcement in 1997. Monfredo was put on leave for 14 weeks during the investigation.

Prunier came forward to tell her story publicly (warning: this link includes graphic descriptions of sexual assault) for the first time in October 2023 to Bill Shaner’s “Worcester Sucks and I Love It.” Prunier says Monfredo sexually abused her between 1991 and 1994, beginning when she was nine years old. Monfredo was Prunier’s softball coach and principal of Belmont Street Community School at the time.

Shaner reported that both Prunier and her parents recall a representative of then-Attorney General Scott Harshbarger’s office stating they believed the case should be prosecuted. Then-Worcester County District Attorney John Conte declined to do so.

An image released by the school showed a collage of images from Read Across America Day, which included the image above. The image shows Monfredo, reading to children inside the Midland Street School, on Friday, March 1.

(Editors note: The image above has been digitally enhanced by This Week in Worcester to increase its resolution.)

A representative for Worcester Public Schools said Monfredo was inside the school for “approximately one hour,” and was never alone with students. The same representative said Monfredo was on a list of volunteer readers from a previous year. After Monfredo’s appearance at the school, parents raised concerns with the school district.

Midland Street School Principal Apologizes to Parents

Christina Guertin, the principal of Midland Street Elementary School, an elementary school at 18 Midland St., sent a letter of apology to families of the school on Wednesday, March 6. The letter said it was to address “concerns from parents about our decision to allow a certain individual to participate in the Read Across America Day event,” on March 1.

Although Guertin does not mention Monfredo in her letter, multiple sources confirmed that Guertin’s letter was in response to parent complaints about Monfredo’s presence at the school.

The letter continues, saying, “The individual was not criminally convicted of wrongdoing, but information that was shared in news reports last fall raised understandable concerns.” Guertin apologized for “allowing this person to read to our students.”

Guertin’s full letter to Midland Street School parents can be found at the bottom of this piece.

WPS Superintendent Rachel Monnarez became aware of the situation as a result of parent complaints and informed school committee members. According to Guertin’s letter to parents, “a meeting was held with members of Worcester Public Schools administration about this incident,” and “WPS and the Worcester School Committee are in the process of updating rules and policies on school volunteers.”

“My Lack of Information”

In Guertin’s letter, she characterized the decision allowing “this person” to read to students as “an error in judgment due to my lack of information.” While it is not clear if Guertin read Shaner’s piece, or how much she knew about the substance of the allegations against Monfredo, it appears clear she did know allegations existed.

On Oct. 21, 2021, the last school committee meeting of that session, and Monfredo’s last meeting as a member of the Worcester School Committee, supporters of then-Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools Maureen Binienda held a demonstration outside city hall in opposition to the decision not to extend Binienda’s contract. Several sources have confirmed that Guertin has been a vocal supporter of Binienda, and multiple people in attendance that evening confirmed Guertin attended the rally in support of Binienda.

Another group, Wake Up Worcester, held what they described as a vigil outside of city hall that same evening, Oct. 21, 2021. Wake Up Worcester describes itself as “Community members dedicated to addressing rape, sexual assault, and abuse in our schools and community.” The allegations against Monfredo were central to the message of the Wake Up Worcester vigil, which  Prunier participated in.

Support from Binienda

Since Prunier came forward in October, Monfredo has declined to speak with media outlets. However, early this year Monfredo approached at least one current member and one former member of the Worcester School Committee, saying, “I was never alone with that girl.”

Binienda, who was elected to the Worcester School Committee and began her first term this year, has been aligned with Monfredo for many years. When Monfredo was put on leave due to Prunier’s accusations in 1997, Binienda was Assistant Principal at South High Community School.

In 2018, Prunier’s therapist, without identifying Prunier, emailed Binienda, then superintendent, urging her to take precautions with Monfredo on behalf of students. Binienda responded, saying, in part, “It is possible, too, that depending upon the nature of the allegations and the timing thereof, there is no role for me to play as Superintendent of Schools.”

Requested Ban from School Committee Meetings

Though Prunier had yet to publicly identify herself as the source of the allegations until last year, she began attending school committee meetings in 2019. Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation have confirmed that Binienda requested that Prunier be prohibited from attending school committee meetings, as Prunier’s presence made Monfredo upset. It would be unlawful to prohibit Prunier from an open meeting under Massachusetts law. The request was denied.

On at least one occasion, Binienda repeated Monfredo’s defense that he was never alone with the girl to a group of individuals, according to sources present at the time of the comment.

In September 2021, the Worcester School Committee voted to decline to extend the contract of Binienda and open a national search for the next superintendent of Worcester Public Schools. Monfredo was the only vote in opposition. In an online petition in support of extending Binienda’s contract, comments from Monfredo appear three times.

After Binienda’s contract with Worcester Public Schools ended in 2022, she was appointed interim superintendent of Quabog Regional School district for a year. After that contract ended, she applied to Lowell Public Schools for an interim superintendent position. In her application, Binienda listed Monfredo as a reference.

After considering a run for Mayor of Worcester, Binienda launched a campaign for election to the Worcester School Committee in 2023. Monfredo was active in Binienda’s campaign in multiple ways. In June 2023, the Easthampton School Committee appointed Binienda as interim superintendent of Easthampton Public Schools.

After Shaner’s piece containing details of Prunier’s allegations against Monfredo was published in October, Binienda’s campaign continued to enable Monfredo to participate in campaign activities. Binienda was elected to the Worcester School Committee in November, receiving over 11,000 votes, the second most of any candidate, for any office, in Worcester.

In December, Easthampton Public Schools renewed Binienda’s contract for another year as interim superintendent.

Binienda has refused to comment on Monfredo outside of blaming a political agenda for raising the issue.

Support from Former Mayor Mariano

While a principal, Monfredo was active in the campaign Ray Mariano’s campaign for mayor in 1994. When Monfredo was put on leave in 1997, Mariano expressed confidence in Monfredo to the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, saying he had trusted him with his own daughter.

Mariano also added that “any time a child makes an allegation, it indicates there’s a problem somewhere,” and that “there’s a problem that needs to be dealt with.” It is unclear what he interpreted that problem to be, or what action, if any, he took to address the problem.

Mariano, now a columnist with the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, has also been a vocal supporter of Binienda. When the school committee began moving toward declining to renew Binienda’s contract, Mariano accused the school committee of shoving her “out the door under cover of darkness.” The vote to launch a national search for the next superintendent didn’t take place until September. Mariano also criticized the decision to search for a new superintendent outside the district.

Criticism of Current Superintendent

Since Monarrez took over the position of superintendent of schools in July 2022, Mariano has railed against Monarrez’s hiring plan. On November 18, 2022, Mariano attempted to link Monarrez’s hiring plan to the inability to address what he claimed was in increase in violence inside Worcester Public Schools.

Based on an internal police department email, which Mariano described as “an alarming police report,” he depicted Worcester Public Schools as a hotbed of violence. That email said, “Since the start of this school year we have been asked to respond to nearly 385 incidents, (all schools). Many, but not all, of these incidents have been violent and disruptive occurrences.”

This Week in Worcester asked the Worcester Police Department for statistics on police responses to Worcester Public Schools, which was received near the end of 2022. The department prepared a crime analysis that showed police responsed to 37 Worcester Public chools between Aug. 29, 2022 and Dec. 26, 2022. That police department analysis showed 188 incidents responses. Of those incidents, 50 (27%) were classified as Medical. The categories of Assault and Battery (11), Assault (8), Fight (5), Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (2), and Indecent Assault and Battery Over 14 (1), combined for 14 percent of the 188 incidents.

The original image released by Midland Street school is below. The indication of where in the collage the image of Monfredo appears was added by This Week in Worcester.

March 13, 2024 John Monfredo

The full text of the letter to families of Midland Street School by Guertin:

“Dear Midland Street School Families,

In the last few days, we have received legitimate concerns from parents about our decision to allow a certain individual to participate in the Read Across America Day event last Friday. The individual was not criminally convicted of wrongdoing, but information that was shared in news reports last fall raised understandable concerns.

First, I would like to apologize for allowing this person to read to our students. It was an error in judgment due to my lack of information. Second, please know that the safety and security of your children is always our top priority. This individual was never alone with any children on Friday, nor were any of our volunteer readers. Volunteers are not allowed to be alone with our students. Employees, including staff from community partner organizations that do regular work with our schools, are all required to undergo criminal background checks.

Today, a meeting was held with members of Worcester Public Schools administration about this incident. WPS and the Worcester School Committee are in the process of updating rules and policies on school volunteers. In the meantime, WPS will send updated guidance to school principals about best practices to ensure the safety of all students. Here at Midland, we will absolutely review the name of every volunteer moving forward with district administration to ensure such an incident does not happen again.

Above all, please know that the Midland Street School is a safe and welcoming environment for all students. Safety will always be our top priority. Please contact me with any questions.”

 

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