Joseph DeShan never faced criminal charges but appears on a diocese list of clergy "credibly accused" of sexual abuse by minors
A former priest whose “sexual relationship” with a 14-year-old girl led to her pregnancy should not be booted from his current job as a public-school sixth-grade teacher on the basis of “hearsay” comments about the alleged abuse that still trail him, a state education arbitrator in New Jersey has ruled.
Indeed, the Cinnaminson Township Public Schools district that recently tried to oust Joseph Michael DeShan for alleged “conduct unbecoming a staff member,” had already investigated him in 2002 after reports of his 1988 “relationship” with the teen girl went public.
The district responded at that time with a three-week “administrative suspension” of DeShan, but after finding no more concerns then, it allowed DeShan back into the classroom, the arbitrator noted.
Because the district knew about and had cleared DeShan before new concerns about him arose last fall, the arbitrator found no merit in “alleged hearsay complaints” based on “pre-employment conduct” and ordered the district to reinstate the suspended teacher.
DeShan could not be located by PEOPLE for comment.
His past circled back on him last fall after a “young female student” claimed DeShan had told her, in a “weird voice:” “Look at me. Let me see your pretty green eyes. You don’t see them too much anymore.” She said his comments made her “uncomfortable,” according to the arbitrator’s report. Parents also addressed an October school board meeting and portrayed DeShan as a “rapist” and “pedophile” while saying their children wished to be removed from his class amidst concerns that their kids were the same age as the teen DeShan had allegedly abused.
DeShan, who previously portrayed his prior encounters with the teen girl as consensual, never faced criminal charges due to the expired statute of limitations, reports NJ.com. However, under Connecticut state law, sex with a child under 16 qualifies as statutory rape.
Church records reviewed by the Connecticut Post show police were not informed at the time of the alleged abuse, which occurred while the girl worked in the rectory at St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
DeShan’s name appears on a 2015 list of “credibly accused” clergy removed from their positions after accusations of sexual abuse by minors and released by the Diocese of Bridgeport. That list states DeShan was removed from the ministry in 1989.
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The arbitration findings on behalf of the New Jersey Department of Education detail the background in the case.
“Joseph DeShan has been a teacher at Cinnaminson Middle School and Rush Elementary School in the Cinnaminson School District for approximately 22 years,” it states. “Prior to his employment with the district, DeShan was a Roman Catholic priest in the Bridgeport, Connecticut Diocese. In 1988 he had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old female. A child was born from their relationship in 1990 when the female was 16 years old. DeShan left the priesthood around 1994 and became a Cinnaminson school teacher in 1996.”
It continues: “In 2002 Connecticut newspapers reported on DeShan’s relationship with the minor. On April 12, 2002, the Cinnaminson Board of Education, previously unaware of the relationship and DeShan’s former vocation as a priest, placed DeShan on administrative suspension. Three weeks later he was returned to the classroom with no further discipline or adverse effect on his employment.”
In pushing for the teacher’s ouster now, the arbitrator said the district did not allege any offense by DeShan in the intervening years but “argues that parental and societal views have changed so that the past conduct now renders [DeShan] unfit for the classroom.”
The arbitrator added: “The fact that some parents now demand his removal from the classroom does not give the [school board] a second opportunity to revisit pre-employment conduct of which it has been long aware.”
After the district moved to fire DeShan, the teacher filed a motion in January to block the effort, which the arbitrator said focused “on both current and past conduct” before concluding that the latest allegation, lacking further evidence from the district, “is clearly based on hearsay.”
The district is considering how to proceed.
“As a policy, we refrain from offering comments on pending legal and personnel matters,” superintendent Stephen Cappello said in a statement shared with PEOPLE. “With that said, we are disappointed by the arbitrator’s ruling and we are currently working with counsel to determine our next steps. We will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and educational community.”