COPENHAGEN — Copenhagen Central School District Superintendent Scott N. Connell has spent his first year on the job guiding a capital project toward completion and trying to maintain staffing and services despite declining state aid.
Until last week, that is.
The Bernie Fine child molestation investigation exploded at Syracuse University in mid-November, but the aftershock hit here a week ago when 2006 Copenhagen graduate Zachary R. Tomaselli, 23, became the third accuser of the longtime Syracuse University basketball assistant coach.
Mr. Fine was fired that day, and Mr. Connell said that ever since, he has been simply trying to maintain order and emphasize education inside this small, rural district on the northern edge of the Tug Hill Plateau, where dairy cows substantially outnumber people.
The 125-square-mile district, which has 125 teachers and support staff, draws its 640 students from Jefferson and Lewis counties. The children attend classes in a kindergarten-through-12th-grade building in the heart of this scenic village, nearly 80 miles north of Syracuse along the Deer River.
Mr. Connell said he has fielded dozens of calls from the media asking him to comment on Mr. Tomaselli, who is also facing sexual-abuse charges in Maine involving a 14-year-old boy. But there is little he can say about the former student who this summer also said he had been sexually abused by his father, a school board member and thus one of the seven people for whom Mr. Connell works.
“All I know about it is what I see on TV and hear in the media,” said Mr. Connell, who was athletic director when Mr. Tomaselli attended school here. “I'm trying to continue to keep the school as normal as I can. My job is to run the school and not let this distract us from the mission here — that's to educate kids.”
But returning to normalcy is not possible right now. Two Tomaselli sisters and a brother are still in school here. Another sister, who played soccer and was a cheerleader at Copenhagen before graduating in 2009, is now a college honor student in Virginia.
Mr. Tomaselli's father, Alfred E. Tomaselli, was recently elected to his second term on the school board. During his tenure since 2007, he has had a hand in reaching a buyout with one superintendent, hiring the next two, and shaping a pair of recent capital projects, totaling $11.6 million, that featured installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system.
Which means Copenhagen residents who know the Tomaselli family for the positive impact it has had on the school district are left to wonder who is telling the truth, father or son.
Local officials and community members privately express sympathy toward the Tomaselli family and hope for as quick and pain-free a resolution as possible.
However, those contacted by the Times declined to speak publicly, citing the sensitivity of the matter in this small, close-knit community.
“Until the authorities make their decision, I think there is no comment,” said Kim R. Vogt, who also serves on the school board and the village's Board of Trustees.
Stationed at Fort Drum with the New York Air National Guard's 174th Fighter Wing, Syracuse, Lt. Col. Tomaselli repeatedly has said his son is lying about being abused by Mr. Fine. The son's claim of sex abuse against his father made in June was investigated by state police, who in September decided no charges were warranted, state police spokesman Lt. Glenn Miner said.
Those who think Mr. Tomaselli is lying have noted a time line. After being accused of sexual abuse in Maine, Mr. Tomaselli in June accused his father of abusing him. Then after allegations against Mr. Fine became public in November, Mr. Tomaselli said he was abused by Mr. Fine in a hotel room in 2002 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
A former classmate of Mr. Tomaselli doesn't believe any of the allegations.
“Tomaselli is an idiot,” said Michael Mahar, Copenhagen. “I don't buy it at all.”
Col. Tomaselli said his son “never stayed for any overnighters (with Syracuse officials) and never even got within shouting distance of Bernie.”
But Mr. Tomaselli told Reuters the years of abuse made him the person he is today.
“Bernie and my father had a lot to do with confusing my understanding of what a normal relationship should be between an adult and a teenage boy,” he said. “I wish I grew up in an environment where I could have understood what was normal. I really think I wouldn't be in this situation if it weren't for the abuse.”
Col. Tomaselli told Reuters on Friday, “We still love him and we hope that he recovers from his problems. I can't speak to the other accusers, but I can tell you 100 percent, actually 1,000 percent, that my son was not abused by Bernie Fine.”
He said that while the Fine investigation goes on, he will continue to defend himself and “say what the truth was.”
DISTRICT'S NO. 1 FAN
Mr. Tomaselli began attending the Copenhagen Central School District more than a decade ago, when he was 13 and his father was assigned to Fort Drum and the family relocated to the Jefferson County town of Rutland.
He didn't play organized sports but followed a number of teams intently. Popular with his classmates, Mr. Tomaselli was named “biggest sports fan” by his 45-member class at Copenhagen.
In his senior high school yearbook, he listed his activities as sports broadcasting and guitar, and his pastimes as football, basketball, hockey and baseball.
Mr. Tomaselli was a student of the month, honor roll student and member of the National Honor Society.
Today he lives with his grandmother in Lewiston, Maine. Last week, he revealed that he told police Mr. Fine molested him in 2002 in a Pittsburgh hotel room. He claimed Mr. Fine touched him “multiple” times in that one incident. Mr. Tomaselli has said he met Mr. Fine after he and his father attended a Syracuse autograph session on campus in late 2001, then got an opportunity to ride a bus with Syracuse University athletic department staff to and from a 2002 game in Pittsburgh.
In response to Mr. Tomaselli's allegations, state and federal authorities have searched Mr. Fine's suburban Syracuse home, along with his office and a locker at the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.
Mr. Tomaselli over the past week discussed his allegations with numerous media outlets, including a Wednesday interview on nationally syndicated daytime talk show “Anderson,” hosted by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. Among other things, he mentioned that his strained ties with his father stemmed from a homosexual relationship he had.
Mr. Tomaselli posted Wednesday on his Facebook page that his emotions had finally caught up with him.
“The pain of having to air my dirty laundry on national TV to explain why my father calls me a liar was extremely tough,” he wrote.
In a more recent post he asks his Facebook friends to call the Copenhagen Central School District and ask for his father's dismissal from the school board.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.