Teacher from Salisbury released on bail in sexual assault case

RYAN MCBRIDE/Staff photo Robert Vandenbulcke of Salisbury, a culinary arts teacher at Essex Tech, is arraigned for allegedly sexually assaulting a student. He formerly taught at Greater Lawrence Tech. 

SALEM — An Essex Tech culinary arts teacher from Salisbury will be monitored with a GPS bracelet and has been ordered to stay away from the Danvers school while awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old student in a cooking class last week.

Robert Vandenbulcke, 62, of 1 Commonwealth Ave. was freed on $5,000 bail following his arrest Wednesday on a Danvers police warrant on two counts of indecent assault and battery. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf at his arraignment Thursday in Salem District Court.

Vandenbulcke was formerly a vocational teacher at Greater Lawrence Tech.

Vandenbulcke taught in Essex Tech's culinary arts program, which ran an on-campus restaurant. The school placed Vandenbulcke on leave in the wake of the charges.

The student and his parents went to Danvers police Nov. 12 after an incident that morning in the school kitchen. The boy told police that Vandenbulcke dropped a towel near him as he stood near a stove, then, while picking it up off the floor, he placed a hand on the front of the boy’s pants near his genitals as he looked at him.

The boy, who had been assigned to make sauce that morning, told police he was still “trying to make sense of” Vandenbulcke’s actions when, about five minutes later, he was approached a second time as he stood at the stove and the teacher reached across to turn down a burner with his right hand, touching the boy’s genital area again with the back of his hand.

In a statement released after Vandenbulcke’s arrest, Essex Tech Superintendent Heidi Riccio said, “We were first made aware of a criminal investigation on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at which time the teacher was immediately placed on administrative leave.

“The safety and well-being of our students are our top priorities. Essex Tech is cooperating fully with the Danvers police department and the school has launched its own investigation into the matter,” she said.

Neither Vandenbulcke nor his attorney, Gerald LaFlamme, commented as they left Salem District Court separately Thursday.

LaFlamme and prosecutor Haleigh Reisman had already reached an agreement on the conditions of Vandenbulcke’s release, which also include no contact with the boy or any other witnesses and an agreement to waive rendition proceedings if there is any violation while at a second home in Maine. That agreement was accepted by Judge Randy Chapman.

Vandenbulcke has a long history in the restaurant and food industry, running Newburyport’s Mall restaurant in the 1990s and later a food truck and cart business that appeared at local festivals;  and more recently at Essex Tech.


Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.


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