PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A former Tampa educator who would discipline students by pulling their toes was arrested in Rhode Island earlier this week in connection to an unwanted foot massage he allegedly gave to a minor at a fitness center.
Current Providence school district administrator Olayinka Alege, 40, has resigned as network superintendent of secondary schools for the school district, the Providence Journal reported.
Alege was arrested on Monday after police said he allegedly massaged the foot of a minor without their consent at the Edge Fitness in Warwick, which is located outside of the Providence school district.
“The allegations are not what they appear to be,” Joseph Solomon Jr., attorney for Alege, told the newspaper after a court hearing. Alege has pleaded not guilty.
Alege was released on personal recognizance with an order not to contact the victim. Police initially redacted information about the victim, but the newspaper identified them as a minor citing a police affidavit. The Associated Press is not releasing identifying information because the person is a potential victim of abuse.
The Providence schools Superintendent Harrison Peters and state education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green called the charges against Alege “disturbing,” in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“After learning the full details of the allegations — including the fact that there is video evidence supporting the authenticity of the claims — the district asked for Dr. Alege’s resignation, which has been received,” they said.
Alege was hired in June and previously worked at the same school district in Florida as Peters, the newspaper reported.
In 2009, Alege was an assistant principal at King High School in Hillsborough County when he was told to stop disciplining students by pulling on their toes. Students had reported that the toe-pulling did not hurt but was strange. Law enforcement investigated those claims and decided not to bring charges.
Five boys told Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies that Alege asked them on numerous occasions to take off a shoe and sock behind closed doors and allow him to “pop” their toes.
Alege told the then-St. Petersburg Times it was all in good fun.
“I think the gist of it was me and the kids I was mentoring were just playing around,” he said. “It was one of those playful things, just playing around with the kids so they felt more comfortable.”
Though deputies and an assistant state attorney concluded the punishment didn’t amount to battery, a child protective services investigator with the Sheriff’s Office said he saw “some indicators” of abuse.
Out of five parents contacted about the incidents, only one wanted to pursue criminal charges, according to district records.
A school district spokesman said a principal spoke with Alege “and let him know that his actions could be misinterpreted, which appears to be what occurred here. Mr. Alege has a great rapport with students at King High and acts as a mentor to several of them.”
One student said Alege “popped” his toes about 20 times. Once the toe-pulling was accompanied by a scolding for not staying after school to help set something up. It happened so frequently, he said, that he often just offered his foot upon entering the office.
Another said Alege popped toes by “pulling them out and bending them down.” He said Alege told him he “could not hit ... so the toe-popping was a form of punishment.”
Born in Dallas, Alege lived in Nigeria as a young child before attending and graduating from Hillsborough County schools.
His personnel file at the time news stories came out about the toe punishment showed glowing evaluations and a reputation for focusing on academic achievement. He was hired in 2003 to teach English at King before becoming assistant principal at Middleton High in 2005. He returned to King in 2007 as the assistant principal in charge of curriculum.
Alege said he was a relatively large man, and some students might feel intimidated to come to his office. But at no point did he hurt students or threaten to do so, he said.
“There wasn’t a person who felt bad that they had been punished,” Alege said. “Not a single kid will tell me they were unhappy coming to school because they felt they were going to be punished. They felt comfortable coming to my office, and that’s the tone I tried to set.”
Still, Alege’s principal told him to cut it out.
“She certainly told him not to do this any more,” a district spokesman said then. “And he agreed.”
Times staff writer Chris Tisch contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.