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Accusations against Falls principal demand administrative response

If the evidence is as it is described, then Patrick Kuciewski has no place in the Niagara Falls School District; the principal of 79th Street Elementary School should be gone.

The details of the matter remain murky, but its outlines are clear enough to require action. Three girls – now women, since the events occurred at least 15 years ago – reported to police that they were in consensual relationships with Kuciewski, although they may have been too young to give proper consent.

No force was involved and Niagara Falls School Attorney Angelo Massaro said that the alleged incidents did not involve the 79th Street School or community. It is also unclear how old the girls were at the time or if they were students at the school. Kuciewski has held several positions in the school district over his 31-year career there, according to the district’s posted biography.

Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said he believes the department’s investigation produced enough evidence to support criminal charges, but for one problem: the statute of limitations had already expired. Because the relationships were consensual, not involving force or compulsion, a five-year statute of limitations applied, beginning with the victims’ 18th birthdays. For misdemeanors, a two-year statute of limitations would apply.

Thus, unless there are more-recent relationships yet to be reported – and police say they will revisit the case if that occurs – no criminal charges can be filed against Kuciewski.

Kuciewski has been on paid administrative leave since the allegations of sexual misconduct came to light on June 10. The district is reviewing the matter and, given DalPorto’s comments, parents, students and taxpayers in Niagara Falls have to hope that review is aimed at following proper procedures for getting him out of his job.

A criminal trial properly requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt before a defendant can be convicted. That standard applies in no other circumstance, and certainly not whether a person with authority over minors – and with an apparent record of abusing that authority – can remain in that role.

The community has not heard from Kuciewski on this matter and, while the likelihood of that may be extremely low, he certainly deserves the chance to defend himself. If the facts are as police believe them to be, though, it’s difficult to imagine what he could say that would overcome the suggestion that he is unfit to continue in any role where he has influence over, or even contact with, minors.

No one is allowed to prey on underage youth. It’s a crime. For a teacher or principal to do it is beyond criminal. Any district with that problem needs to purge itself.