Exonerated teacher: “I’ve got to let it go”

NEWFANE, N.Y. (WIVB) — Sal Anello’s life changed Jan. 20 and it’ll likely never be the same.

He walked a Tonawanda park Tuesday evening a free man but his burden remains. “I was crucified before anyone knew any details,” he said.

An accusation from a student turned into a meeting with the high school principal and superintendent. Hours later, he sat before a county investigator. A few hours more, he sat before a judge, then alone in a jail cell awaiting bond – a spiral, out of control.

“It’s quite a relief now,” Sal said, tearing up. “To sit there and read something about you that just isn’t true and to wonder, ‘Why? Why someone would do that?'”

Turns out, the accusation wasn’t true. Anello was charged in January with forcible touching, a misdemeanor. He faced much more than jail time; he also faced losing his job or the chance to teach again and worse, losing his sons.

“You try to digest what that means and what you life would look like,” he said.

He would have also been forced to register as a sex offender. “To be on a list like that, you would think somebody is a monster,” he said. “And to sit and think that’s how people view you now, it just eats away at you.”

He said portions of the past five and a half months have been unbearable. The rest has felt surreal.

“Two days after the news broke and my son had a band concert and I walked into that auditorium. They [his sons] were all that mattered,” he said tearing up again. “When you talk about holding your head up high, I had a reason to do that. It was for them.”

Just last week, six months after he first appeared before a judge, Anello was back in court; this time to hear the charges had been dropped.

Newfane Superintendent, Dr. Michael Wendt declined to talk about the specifics of Anello’s case — or its future — because it’s a personnel issue.

He says the district and its teachers follow mandatory reporter guidelines, which require them to notify administration if there’s a belief of any past or current abuse.

“The safety of our children are always our highest priority,” he said.

Meanwhile, Anello remains hopeful.

“It’s going to be uncomfortable to get back in classroom, but it’s what I love to do,” he said. “The district of Newfane knows what they found in me. I’ve been their DJ at their dances. I’ve been their character artist at their social events. I’ve volunteered a lot of my time in their musicals. I just love to be a part of that environment. I’m just not that type of guy to harbor a lot of ill feelings.”

The future for Anello is uncertain. He stands exonerated. But the only definite, he says, is forgiveness.

“If I’m going to move forward, I have to do that without holding onto this. I’ve gotta let it go,” he said. “The reset button has been pushed. I have to gather up those little pieces and do something with them. Whether it’s teaching art, or whether it’s taking my kids to a baseball game or coming out here and enjoying the outdoors in the public. Little by little, just a little bit at a time.”

The investigation into the case remains open. There is a chance charges could be filed against the student who claimed Anello touched her.

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