PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Some parents and students in the Plum School District are upset about a message delivered to the student body involving recent inappropriate relationship allegations between teachers and students.
Some claim the message was a threat — and it all had to do with the ongoing investigation.READ MORE: Five Month Closure Of Fort Duquesne Boulevard Begins This Week
There are teachers charged and students who are victims still in the hallways and the Plum Police chief said that he was seeing posts on social media, threatening those students. He says that’s why he told students during an assembly on Friday that the threats must stop and may be illegal.
“Attacking a victim or a witness … malicious comments to the victims themselves, things that in themselves could be construed as victim or witness intimidations,” said Chief Jeffery Armstrong. “We thought the best thing to do was get out in front of this.”
Armstrong says he told the students social media is fine, but using social media to frighten the witness is not fine. It could hurt their criminal case.
But the ACLU is accusing Plum High School of violating students’ First Amendment rights.
“I don’t know if they think they’re Vladimir Putin. The last I looked, Plum is not in Russia. It’s in the good old United States where we have something called the First Amendment,” said Vic Walczak, of the ACLU.
Some students think the tone of the message was if you talk about the case at all, you could be arrested. But the chief says that’s wrong, they’re just worried about harassment and intimidating victims.
However, the ACLU says statements from the police and school went well beyond witness intimidation.
A letter from the ACLU to the school Friday night says: “Threats to arrest and prosecute students for commenting… violates the First Amendment…”READ MORE: AHN Life Flight Helicopter Lands At Thomas Jefferson High School For Show And Tell
The ACLU demands that they should “immediately issue a statement clarifying that students will not be arrested or prosecuted for communicating.”
They also want the school to hold another assembly with students to explain they have a First Amendment right to comment. And the ACLU says if the school refuses, they’ll seek an appropriate order from a federal judge.
On Thursday, the school superintendent said they are trying to eliminate falsehoods.
“We’re taking our time to make sure that we do our due diligence, so we don’t jump to conclusions. We determine fact from fiction,” said Superintendent Timothy Glasspool.
Just this week a third Plum teacher, Drew Zoldak, was charged with intimidating a witness, after allegedly publicly identifying an 18-year-old student who a fellow teacher is accused of having sex with.
That teacher, 40-year-old Joseph Ruggieri, was arrested in February and accused of also trying to intimidate the victim several times using FaceTime. Jason Cooper, 38, was also arrested in February on charges he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with an 18-year-old female student.
In a press conference Thursday, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said, “It does not become open season on a student because you turn 18.”
He also called Zoldak’s actions “incredibly callous.”
Investigators say they’re looking to see if there could be any other victims and how much school administrators knew about the student-teacher relationship.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: State Health Department Reports 2-Day Total Of 2,399 New Cases, 18 Additional Deaths