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Queens Chronicle

Protesting arrest of music teacher

Bizarre assault case at Richmond Hill HS sparks student walkout

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Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2018 10:30 am

Students at Richmond Hill High School believe a longtime music teacher who was arrested last week for allegedly scratching a student is being unfairly prosecuted.

But a planned walkout of seniors and juniors in support of the teacher was foiled at the last minute when school administrators caught wind of the protest and called a fire drill, the students said.

The music teacher, Paul Ray, 59, was arrested Dec. 18 and charged with assault for his alleged role in an altercation with a 16-year-old student.

According to the complaint, Ray scratched the student’s face with a foil pill pack as the two grappled over a cell phone the student was prohibited from using during school hours.

The circumstances as laid out in court papers seem far from the usual teacher-student confrontation.

Ray was said to have approached the student in a hallway around 10 a.m. on Dec. 7 and told him to get off the phone.

Ray, who had been taking a decongestant for a cold, his lawyer said, had a foil pill pack in his hand. It was when the teacher tried to take the phone that the student was apparently scratched.

Eleven days later, police charged the teacher with assault and arrested him. A judge in the case released Ray, who had no prior run-ins with the law, without bail late last Tuesday night.

The Department of Education reassigned the teacher to nonclassroom duties “pending the criminal investigation of this deeply troubling allegation,” it said in a prepared statement.

In a tweet addressed to Mayor de Blasio, Thursday morning, one student wrote: “The students of Richmond High School in Queens were going to do a peaceful protest for the conviction [sic] of a teacher. School didn’t let it happen and instead they called police and ruined the activity.”

One student organizer said it was impossible to tell how many students were prepared to join the walkout out the school’s main doors at noon on Thursday.

“They did a fire drill at 11:56 a.m. in order to sabatoge our activity,” the student said.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said the fire drill had been planned.

“A group of students had questions about the incident involving Mr. Ray,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the principal addressed their concerns before the planned fire drill.”

Meanwhile, Ray is due back in court Jan. 22.

His lawyer, Donald Vogelman, said Ray had nothing to do with organizing the student protest — though he had been told it might happen.

Ray has been a full-time teacher for the last 21 years, his lawyer said, though it is unclear if he has been at Richmond Hill during that entire time.

His lawyer, who insists on his client’s innocence, questions whether a crime took place at all. Assault in the second degree is defined as causing an injury with a weapon. “A scratch is not an injury under penal law,” Vogelman said.

Welcome to the discussion.