A Bethlehem Central art teacher was arrested yesterday after he allegedly invited a 13-year-old into his backyard and kissed her, according to court documents.
Police said Peter T. Ruggiero, 45, of Delmar, was arrested Tuesday on an active arrest warrant issued by the Bethlehem Town Court. This was following a report they received of an individual who engaged in unwanted behavior with a minor in a Delmar neighborhood.
Court documents reveal Ruggiero allegedly invited a 13-year-old girl into his backyard to see and pet the rabbits he breeds. Ruggiero was talking to the girl about school and a new club he was thinking of starting, and asked if she would like to join.
`He told me to look up at him,` said the victim in her statement. `I looked up, and he took my chin in his right hand and kissed my mouth. I didn’t know what to do, so I just looked at the rabbit in my hands. He went back to breeding the rabbits as if nothing had just happened.`
The victim said she then said she had to go because she was expected home for dinner. When she got home, the girl said she was very upset and crying. Her mom asked her what happened, and she explained everything. The girl told police she felt `extremely annoyed, scared and unsafe.`
The school district said Ruggiero has since been put on paid administrative leave.
`Student safety and well-being are the district’s top priority,` said Bethlehem Central Superintendent Tom Douglas. `Whether the reported incident takes place inside or outside of school, we do not tolerate misconduct with students in any form and will investigate any allegation.`
Police said the student and parent came forward with the initial complaint Monday, and it was investigated. The district said it was reported that the teacher acted `unprofessionally and inappropriately` in the presence of a student.
Ruggiero will remain on paid leave during the district’s investigation, as is protocol. The parents of students in his class have been notified and class will be taught by a certified substitute, according to the district.
Lt. Det. Adam Hornick said no other charges are pending in the case.
`We don’t believe there are other victims, but he does work in an environment that is rich with minors. It’s a good opportunity to talk to students about the behavior to see if there are other victims,` said Hornick.
Ruggiero was charged with a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child and harassment, a violation. He was arraigned in the Town of Bethlehem Court and released on his own recognizance to reappear in Town Court on July 7 at 4 p.m.
While the investigation is continuing, at this time there is no indication that there are other victims; however, police are encouraging individuals who had contact with Ruggiero, to speak to their children and contact police at 518-439-9973, with any concerns or questions in reference to this contact.