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Queens Chronicle

John Bowne principal moved from his post

Kwait gets new DOE gig; city’s paid $830K for settlements over his conduct

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Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2018 10:30 am

Howard Kwait is finally out at John Bowne High School in Flushing.

Discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits leveled against the former principal had led the city to pay $830,000 in taxpayer funds because of legal settlements.

He wasn’t fired, though.

According to a Department of Education spokesman, Kwait “will be performing administrative duties” at an agency office. An assistant principal — whose name the Chronicle could not get prior to deadline — has taken his place.

The decision to relocate the principal was made by DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza, according to the agency.

Kwait had been the Flushing school’s principal since 2006. He’ll still be collecting his $156,671 salary in his new role, according to the DOE.

He was relocated on Friday, and his job change comes as many are criticizing the de Blasio administration for not having an adequate system in place for handling sexual harassment complaints.

In a statement to the Chronicle, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said “it’s outrageous that the city allowed this principal to remain on staff and in a position of authority at” the school while he racked up the hundreds of thousands in public dollars for settlements.

“The city needs to ensure that every sexual harassment allegation is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly,” he added.

The Chronicle could not reach Kwait for comment prior to deadline.

The city paid $85,836.10 to guidance counselor Laura Prettitore in September to settle a lawsuit she brought over Kwait’s conduct, alleging that he sexually harassed her and urged school officials to inflate failing grades. The public also paid $44,163.90 in attorney’s fees in the case.

One assistant principal claimed in litigation last year that the former John Bowne chief retaliated against him because he denounced Kwait for urging a teacher to fix grades.

Maria Catenacci, another assistant principal at John Bowne, sued in 2014 claiming he’d made “numerous sexual advances” toward her and “targeted” her after they were rejected. According to the suit, Catenacci stepped down “in a last ditch effort to escape her circumstances.”

The litigation alleged that in addition to yelling at Catenacci and making derogatory remarks to her, Kwait straddled, touched “and simulated sexual intercourse by pressing his fingers against Plaintiff’s leg and body.”

The city paid $125,000 for Catenacci’s settlement on June 12, 2015.

Sally Maya, a former assistant principal at John Bowne, claimed in lawsuit filed in 2014 that the ex-principal made derogatory comments toward her after she became pregnant.

On the same day as the funds were paid for Catenacci’s case, the city doled out $150,000 for the settlement over Maya’s suit.

Another former official at the school, Miriam Zambrano-Lamhaouhi, claimed in a suit that Kwait discriminated against her while she was pregnant. In 2013, the city paid $200,000 to settle in her case.

Plaintiffs claiming damages over the ex-principal’s behavior weren’t limited to DOE officials.

The family of a student at the school sued in 2012, claiming Kwait had falsely accused her of sending threatening emails. Taxpayers footed a $225,000 bill for the settlement.

Kwait was fined $4,500 by the city Conflict of Interests Board in 2014 for going on two trips to Europe that a female aide at the Flushing high school paid for.

Earlier in his career, Kwait had worked at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing.

“John Bowne High School has always been home to some of our best and brightest,” Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) said in a statement. “I am relieved that the entire community can now move on and keep working to build an environment that keeps our students, faculty, and administrators safe.”

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