Dec. 20—NORTH ANDOVER — A North Andover Middle School girl told her parents, principal and police in 2016 that fitness teacher David Russell made her feel generally uncomfortable and once followed her to a bathroom, according to a police report.
Now 63, Russell was arrested last week and charged with two counts of simple assault and a count of sexual assault against one of his Timberlane Regional High School math students.
Records show that Russell let his Massachusetts teaching license expire three months after police were alerted, and retired from North Andover in August 2016 after 23 years.
His Massachusetts teaching certification has been listed as "inactive/invalid" since 2014, however, educators are allowed to work with that status for two years while completing renewal requirements.
Instead, he obtained his New Hampshire teaching certification in 2019, according to the state Department of Education.
In the wake of his recent arrest, former North Andover students have come forward with more claims.
The incident involving the girl who said Russell followed her to the bathroom is detailed in North Andover police records obtained by The Eagle-Tribune.
Those documents do not include the student's name, but identify her as being in one of Russell's fitness classes in 2016.
According to one report, North Andover Assistant Principal Matthew Abel told Officer Kara Caffrey that he had just met with a student and her mother about issues with Russell.
The student reported that on Jan. 25, 2016 she asked Russell if she could go to the bathroom. After he told her she could, he followed her, the girl said.
He reportedly told her, "Keep doing your jumping jacks while you do your business."
She said she could see through the bathroom stall that he was at the bathroom entrance holding the door open.
The girl reported that she felt "uncomfortable and scared." She was also scared to go back to class, she told police, but returned to avoid getting in trouble.
The police report goes on, "(she) reported to her mother and Mr. Abel that Mr. Russell often makes her feel uncomfortable in class by focusing a lot of his attention on her, making inappropriate comments such as telling her she has 'nice legs,' and following her to different stations she goes to in class."
Abel told police that he spoke with Russell and told him not to have any further contact with the girl.
"Mr. Russell reported that he never uses the girls bathroom. Instead, he uses the boys bathroom," the police report reads.
It goes on, "It should be noted that there is a staff bathroom right next to the boys and girls bathrooms in the Symmes Lobby."
After asking what the school planned to do, Caffrey said she was informed that a call had been placed into the central office and the school was waiting for a response.
On Jan. 27, 2016, Caffrey went on to report that Russell had been in the main office asking for a phone number for the girl's family.
"Despite the principal's, Joan McQuade, attempt to prevent Mr. Russell from calling the family he reported that he already did," Caffrey wrote.
Abel said he was contacted by the family a short time later, and was told that Russell called to deny the accusations and suggested that he was being retaliated against for a detention he gave the girl's older sister three years earlier.
"However, (the sister) was removed from Mr. Russell's class permanently due to him making her feel uncomfortable as well," the police report states.
"Superintendent (Jennifer) Price and Assistant Superintendent (Gregg) Gilligan were updated on the situation and the developments with Mr. Russell calling the family. Mr. Gilligan arrived at the school to bring Mr. Russell to the central office where he was told that he was being placed on leave pending an investigation."
According to police, "Dr. Price advised the school that the district would do an investigation independent of the police department and would let the department know if the district needed assistance."
Another report from Det. Lt. Eric Foulds describes Russell's behaviors as "inappropriate but not criminal."
The only other report mentioning Russell on file with North Andover Police is dated May 22, 2014. In that case, Russell told Patrol Officer Katherine Gehrke that someone had created a fake profile for him on a "peak away" website.
"Russell showed me the link which showed a very old picture of him likely from his math teaching days.There was nothing illegal posted on this profile and appeared to be posted as a prank perhaps several years ago," Gehrke's report states.
"The profile listed him as being over 100 years old. Russell stated that he contacted the site management to have the profile removed."
Russell requested that the situation be documented, "as he feels that he has been targeted in the past by students."
Dozens of other students, including Sarah Kierstead, now 28, say they felt similarly uncomfortable around Russell. Kierstead went as far as writing a petition signed by her classmates.
It was brought to a trusted guidance counselor, she said, but was ignored.
Timberlane school officials have not commented on the process of vetting teachers before they are hired.