Several people have had this name. This piece addresses an Ontario schoolteacher, Kenneth Gino DeLuca, born on April 30, 1948.
1976. South of the neighbourhood stands Algoma Steel, where a majority of our friends' fathers work. My dad works there. We might have been talking in the schoolyard at night, snow reflecting streetlights. I can't place the conversation, but winter sounds right.
"He was caught in the storage room with a grade eight girl. At his last school."
"'Caught'? You mean like, that kind of 'caught?'"
"Yep. Now he can't teach any higher than Grade 5."
My friend was not inclined to lie, so I believed there was some truth to this. I also knew that one did not repeat these things to adults. When the teacher in question was in fact moved up to Grade 7 at our school, I guessed my friend had been repeating a rumour, after all, an untruth.
I wish he had been.
For twenty-one years, Ken DeLuca sexually assaulted female students in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. His activities were the source of surprisingly accurate schoolyard rumours and, I suspect, staff room murmurs. In addition to his victims, many of his co-workers, supervisors, and even some local parents had a pretty good idea that this was happening.
And for twenty-one years, he continued to victimize females: little girls, teens, and at least one adult. When police finally arrested him, his file at the Board of Education, after twenty-one years, contained fewer documents than one would expect to find on file for a brand-new teacher.
He started teaching in 1972, for the Sault's Roman Catholic Separate School Board.
At his first school, he made sexual advances on a seventh-grade student. According to his sworn statement, made as part of a sentencing agreement, he "would undo her shirt and bra, pull her pants and his pants down and lie on top of her on the couch" of the staff room. She alleges an assault in the school gymnasium was witnessed by the principal, who simply walked away. Later, (this is again from DeLuca's confession) DeLuca "intercepted a note from her to another student" about the situation and gave it to the principal. "A meeting was held and the victim's parents were told she would have to leave the separate school system. The student was not believed by school officials." (quoted in The Sault Star, April 10, 1996, B1).
A second student at this same school was assaulted, in a supply cupboard. They were discovered by a student. Another meeting was held.
A priest came to the Catholic school to tell the students not to believe those who spread rumours.
DeLuca was transferred to a new school, where he taught grade five.
I can recall him. He could be charming. Male elementary teachers were less common then, and this was a young jock who dressed stylishly and listened to the popular music of the day. But his manner could also be that of a schoolyard bully. Teachers operated under fewer restrictions in the 70s. He would quiet noisy students by hurling objects at them, and he was not above slamming students against the wall, when the mood struck him.
He molested a handful of girls during his tenure there, ages 10-14. One incident occurred when a girl biked, at his invitation, to the school at night to help him "mark papers." He would later speak on her behalf, and she would be awarded "most valuable student" (quoted in The Sault Star, April 10, 1996, B1).
He once gave an oral test, informing the class that any student who took his or her eyes off of the paper would receive zero. While he gave the test, he approached a female student at the back of the class, removed the pen from her hand, and put her hand on his penis.
She received an A.
Students complained to the principal. They were told to think twice before ruining a man's reputation. A local police officer, an old friend of DeLuca's, warned one student that if she persisted, her family would face a financially crippling lawsuit. The father of one girl threatened to kill the principal if DeLuca ever touched his daughter again. But the matter went no further.
One of his more public quirks was a space in a clothes closet at the back of his class, which he called his "office." "My office, now," he would say, gesturing to a student, imitating Fonzie from Happy Days. He used the space to privately discuss disciplinary matters with students of both sexes.
The space had another use.
He was transferred again.
The schoolyard, just after lunch. We were eighth graders, standing cool and aloof from the screaming and skipping children. A story about DeLuca had been raised earlier, another schoolyard rumour. Privately, just three of us are talking. A friend smiles and says, "it's bullshit. Why would a guy his age be attracted to girls our age?"
And damn it, my friend should have been right.
I would later recall DeLuca telling this boy how cute his little sister was. I don't know if she fell victim or not, but the recollection makes me want to strike something.
At the next elementary school, DeLuca sexually assaulted two students. He was transferred to a Catholic girls' high school. Some of his former victims, meanwhile, organized an egging of his car.
Word spread at the new school, and the girls were, once again, told to stop spreading rumours.
In 1989, the supervisor of a night school program where DeLuca taught received complaints from girls and their parents; one of the girls was suicidal. She attempted to have him removed from a night school course. Before the meeting, he rubbed himself against her, commenting that he was "'just a big friendly guy.'" He "grabbed her in his arms with his knees splayed and pulled her tight to his body and made rutting motions with his pelvis against her private parts" (quoted in The Sault Star, April 10, 1996, B1).
Despite repeated difficulties-- including a dismissal and a libel suit-- she would persist in following up the allegations.
Meanwhile, he assaulted other students. One teenage girl became pregnant by him. She had an abortion. He offered to get another girl into a co-op program in exchange for sex; she refused, saying she would rather rely on her ability. Yet another student asked for help on a co-op application. He said that under personal assets she should write "nice ass, nice tits, would probably be a good lay."(quoted in The Sault Star, April 10, 1996, B1). She complained to the school's administration. As this did not result in action, she quit the class.
Finally, he propositioned a student whose complaint led to a suggestion, from the principal, that she go to the police. In February of 1995, Ken DeLuca was arraigned on 42 sex-related charges; others would later be added.
Initially, he denied the allegations. In fact, he was brought before the courts while awaiting trial, for disclosing the identities of his accusers (shielded, as they were minors when the incidents occurred) and making harassing comments towards them in public places.
His victims were vindicated. On August 9, 1996, he confessed to 14 charges involving 13 victims, in exchange for a lighter sentence, 40 months. Several other charges were stayed.
I am visiting my parents. On our old concrete front porch, I have a conversation with the Crown Attorney who prosecuted the case. He has just heard the latest twist in the tale. The widow of Fred Mills, the Catholic Board's Director of Education from 1968-1978, admits that her late husband had told her, back in the mid-1970s, to "pray" for DeLuca, because "he's got a problem" (quoted by Miller in The Sault Star).
"He was your teacher, wasn't he?"
"Grade five and grade seven. For some subjects. Pretty much everything that made the paper was schoolyard rumour. Well, the stuff from my era."
"You're kidding," he says.
In the autumn of 1996, the Ontario Minister of Education received a petition signed by more than 10,000 Sault Ste. Marie residents asking for a public inquiry into the matter. Finally, Sydney L. Robins was appointed by the Government of Ontario to investigate the issue of sexual abuse in schools, and how it is handled. The report addresses several issues, from sexual assaults to false accusations. But he focuses on the DeLuca Affair, and the lessons that might be learned from it. In brief, the report notes that:
1. Information was not provided between schools when DeLuca was transferred.
2. The schools and the school board did not maintain adequate records of incidents in this case.
3. Schools did not respond or responded inappropriately to complaints.
Suggestions are made regarding appropriate procedures that should be in place.
I meet a former elementary school classmate in the public library back home. We talk awhile. Although the identities of the victims have been concealed, she begins talking about the case with the clear assumption that I know she was victimized. She is correct. I even recognized her silhouetted form on The Fifth Estate's documentary feature on the story.
"I want to write a book about it," she says. She comments on some of my published writing that she's read. I say that I don't know if I can give advice on publishing, but she is free to call me regarding writing-related questions.
We talk about people we used to know.
In the end, she does not call.
In 1998, lawsuits by several victims resulted in out-of-court settlements for undisclosed amounts of money.
DeLuca made news again from prison, when a treatment program for sex offenders suspended him for violations of confidentiality, and other breaches of rules. A prison psychologist described him as "arrogant and superior," and "totally insincere and manipulative" (quoted in The Sault Star, August 21, 1997).
After his release, he returned to the Sault. He has lost his right to teach; I do not know what he does for a living now.
The mother of one of his victims sent a letter to a committee examining specific legal action recommended by the Robins Report. It reads, in part:
As the mother of one of Ken DeLuca's many victims, I feel compelled to write this letter. I have kept silent from speaking out publicly for many reasons. One very important one is that neither my daughter nor our family wanted it known who we were and also, as in the past, it made no sense to come forward on our own. Things are now different though.
I applaud the Sault Star for publishing the Robins report. As I read it I find myself shaking with fear, anger, disgust and sickness. The same feelings I had when my daughter first informed me that a teacher was sexually assaulting her in the separate school system and in the school that she was attending. The same feeling I had when I realized that no one at the separate school board was listening to my cry for help when we informed them of what was going on. The same feelings I have when I think about the fact that all of these men Bill Struk, Harvey Barsanti, Gary Barone, Raymond Mask etc are sitting in their comfortable homes collecting a big pension cheque knowing full well that they sat back and did nothing to stop this pedophile from sexually abusing minors.
As parents themselves, I wonder how they would have dealt with the fact that every night before they closed their eyes they would say a silent prayer that their daughter would be safe in school tomorrow and that she would be able to stay out of sight of the stalker and pedophile who was being allowed to roam freely among the children because his superiors refused to deal with him and his behaviours.
As parents we sent our beautiful little girl into a system that we thought was being overseen by good, upstanding, Christian people. Little did we realize how very wrong we were. I wonder once again how these very people would have felt if they had to deal with the fact that 16 years before their daughter was born, a pedophile was already beginning to stalk and abuse little girls and was getting away with it because he was being protected by his supervisors who were good, upstanding, Christian people.
I have heard it said that one must walk in someone's shoes to know and understand. Well, Mr Struk, Mr Cameletti, Mr Barsanti, Mr Mask etc, I challenge you to try to walk in my shoes and go where I have gone: countless nights of being awakened by your little girl's screams and trying to convince her it was only a bad dream and that this man couldn't hurt her any more; countless nights of being awakened by your own grown daughter's screams, only to go to remind her once again that it was only a bad dream and that this man couldn't hurt her any more; trying to explain to her why this man was allowed to do what he did and, most important, trying to teach her to trust again.
("Subcommittee Reports on Bill 118").
In the summer of 2004, I encountered a woman mentioned in this article, and we have since exchanged e-mail. A few of her comments on the subject appear following, with her permission:
I was able to read the article about DeLuca, and I think that you
did a good job. Just one thing about the part about the "girl" in the
library, I didn't call because I find it very difficult to go over all this
again and again. I even had a hard time reading your article. The memories
are still too fresh as if it happened yesterday....or 25 years ago....
In DeLuca's hearing for day parole, he does admit
to an incident with me (my name is not mentioned, however, I am the person
that he is talking about) and at one point he says that he knew that I
wouldn't say anything because of the repercussions that I would get from him
and he goes on to say that that is exactly what happened, when I told, he
took it out on me, he says, that I was a strong independent person but was
not strong enough to take him on. How wrong was he??? I could go on with
stories about what happened back then and even when this all came out again
20 or so years later. Example: how he stalked me and would sit outside my
house just watching my front entrance.....This man did many things that
people are unaware of and what p@##$## me off is that he walks around town
free as a bird....
I want to thank the many teachers I had who would never have considered behaving improperly towards their students. And I want to thank my parents, who diligently clipped and mailed all local reports concerning this matter.
"DeLuca suspended from treatment program for breaches." The Sault Star August 21, 1997. A1.
"DeLuca victims tell their stories through Crown attorney." The Sault Star April 10, 1996. B1.
Catherine Dunphy. "Why wasn't I worth protecting?" The Toronto Star December 10, 1998. H9.
Brian Miller. "Pray for him. He's got a problem." The Sault Star. I will add additional details if I can track the date of this clipping.
The Robins Report. Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario.
"Subcommittee Reports on Bill 118." Government of Ontario Website.
"The Untouchable Ken DeLuca." The Fifth Estate. CBC, 1997.
Michael Valpy. "21 years of wickedness." The Globe and Mail September 21, 1996. D1.
In addition, I consulted numerous clippings from The Sault Star (especially, though not exclusively, coverage by Elaine Della-Mattia and Brian Miller) and Sault This Week.