One parent whose daughter was a student of a former Montville first-grade teacher accused of sexual assault said she witnessed the teacher holding hands with students, but was stunned by last week's charges.
Jason Fennes, a former teacher at , was arrested twice last week on sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child charges stemming from two separate alleged incidents.
Theresa Golowko and her family have known Fennes for the past 10 years. Her children knew him through school and were on his track team while her husband coached alongside him. Her family has traveled with Fennes for athletic events and has seen his involvement and interaction with the Montville community firsthand.
"I never witnessed any behavior close to what was described in the allegations," Golowko told Patch.
Fennes was arrested on March 5 and charged with sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child after a girl who was in his class in 2005 alleged he sexually abused her.
Fennes was arrested a second time last Friday and charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child after a second victim came forward and described an alleged incident that occurred during the 2006-07 school year.
Fennes is being held at the Morris County Correctional Facility on $300,000 bail with no 10 percent option.
While Golowko admits witnessing Fennes holding hands with students, she felt the school's principal, Dr. Stephanie Adams, should have taken a more proactive role in mentoring her employee.
Adams has not return several requests for comment. Fennes' attorney, Julian Wilsey, also did not return calls for comment this week.
Still, Golowko believes the behavior she personally witnessed was not in line with the charges.
Golowko said Fennes was extremely involved with the community, from mentoring the students in school and through athletics to a fun house event he would run from a home he rented. The fun house event has been criticized by some, but Golowko said it was a full community event and not just run by Fennes.
"He just was into the community like no one I've ever seen," she said.
Golowko said she realized Fennes seemed to relate to the kids and gain their trust by being friendly with them.
"He was more on the kid level, but does that mean he's a pedophile though?" she said.
However, some parents became concerned when Fennes' contact with students was questioned by a school administrator in 2009. While the contact investigated was not sexual, and withholding of a raise.
He was later suspended after the district received an anonymous letter in 2010 about his behavior. Fennes received tenure from the district in 2001 and resigned in June of 2010. He began working the following year as a first-grade teacher at Cedar Hill Prep School. He resigned from that position earlier this year.
Fennes was also investigated by the Division of Youth and Family Services, Golowko said, and at that time, several parents began paying close attention to Fennes and his behavior.
Golowko said she even spoke to Fennes on one occasion about how a young male teacher needs to be careful with his behavior around students. She also said Fennes invited parents to visit his classes and Golowko said she looked for the suspicious behavior, but did not see it. If she had, she said she would have pointed it out to authorities.
"I did everything I could do," she said. "If it turns out to be that he was guilty, honestly, I couldn't have done any more."
Golowko said she and other parents are hesitant to come forward to say they did not see the suspicious behavior because she cannot say with certainty that she does not believe the allegations.
When she learned of the first victim, Golowko said she was confident that she never saw Fennes exhibit any actions like those described in the affidavit. But she and her family were surprised to see that a second victim has since come forward.
Still, Golowko said she, and others, should not be quick to pass judgment.
"I just think we need to keep an open mind here," she said.