WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A substitute teacher in Woonsocket was fired and later arrested on Thursday after he reportedly chased students around and acted as if he wanted to harm them.
Phillip B. Cole. 58, of Woonsocket, faces a disorderly conduct charge following the incident at Hamlet Middle School.
According to the arrest report from Woonsocket police, the school’s Assistant Principal Becky DelBarone responded to a reported disturbance in the classroom Cole was assigned to and said he appeared to be “very upset.”
Students told DelBarone that Cole had chased them around the room and made mention that a shooting could happen at the school. One student later told police she was scared that Cole was going to assault her and said he yelled at her about financial difficulties and blamed her and her fellow students for his struggles.
DelBarone brought Cole to her office and demanded he leave the school and not return, the police report says. At that point, she said Cole began to yell and say he was being bullied by DelBarone and the students. According to the report, he then said the firing would kill him and started making thrusting motions into his own stomach – as if to thrust an imaginary knife into himself – saying, “you’re killing me!”
Cole left the school and was later found by police at the Woonsocket Public Library and taken into custody.
Woonsocket Superintendent Patrick McGee said he’s worried about what students and teachers say happened on Thursday but also proud of how the situation was handled.
“I was certainly concerned about some of the inappropriate comments made in front of the students,” Dr. McGee said Friday.
According to court records obtained by Eyewitness News, Cole was arrested by Providence Police in July 2006 and charged with felony assault and disorderly conduct. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of reckless driving and the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed. He didn’t receive any jail time when he was sentenced the following April but was ordered to undergo a mental health assessment.
Cole had been a substitute teacher in Woonsocket since February, according to McGee. He said the school department followed all hiring policies, including subjecting Cole to a background check, which cleared him to work in the district.
“Whatever he may have had in his past were not disqualifying, based on the BCI report,” McGee said.
“I just want people to know we did do our due diligence and we did follow the procedures and policies of the hiring process that we have here in Woonsocket,” he added.
McGee said the incident showed that the department may need to take a closer look at candidates when hiring substitutes.
“Make sure that when we have individuals that come in and interview for substitute positions that we really maybe go one step beyond just receiving the BCI and just reviewing what they have on their substitute teaching application,” he said.
On Friday, Cole’s bail was set at $5,000 personal recognizance. He’s due back in court May 15.