PLUM (KDKA) – Administrators in the Plum School District faced tough questions from parents and students during a school board meeting Tuesday evening as three teachers face charges in an alleged sex scandal.
Parents and students showed up knowing the Plum area school directors by law can’t say much about the teacher investigations.
KDKA’s Kym Gable Reports:
“The district must defer to all ongoing law enforcement investigations,” Anthony Julio, the district’s solicitor, told the crowd. “It is routine for criminal investigations to take precedence over the processes required by the school code.”
But the parents say their families are in a crisis situation that demands more communication. It’s affecting the way the kids learn and the community’s faith in their educators.
“We didn’t know anything. The only way I knew was because of the media,” Donna Nieser, a parent, said. “That was the only way I learned anything and by the time my kids come home they didn’t want to talk about it anymore. They were all talked out. They were fed up, so we were left in the dark, absolutely.”
And the student assemblies on Friday, the parents say they didn’t know about those either.
“I don’t send my child to school to be threatened by the police,” said Reginald Hickman, another parent. “That does not need to happen again; it was completely inappropriate to take place in a school setting.”
Meanwhile, the atmosphere at school has changed completely, according to many students.
“The administration did know about it,” said Lexie Adreon, a student. “They just decided they were going to brush it off their shoulders, but once more teachers started to get accused, they were like, okay, it’s finally time that we address the second one, too.”
“How that leadership can allow that to happen and these people are not brought to justice earlier is a shame and a travesty and an embarrassment,” John Anderson, a parent, said. “And so my question to you is – how are you going to change the leadership of this high school.”
Three teachers are facing charges and two are accused of allegedly having inappropriate relationships with students.
Last week, a third Plum teacher, 40-year-old Drew Zoldak, was charged with trying to intimidate an 18-year-old student who a fellow teacher is accused of having sex with.
KDKA’s Amy Wadas Reports:
He is accused of exposing the identity of the alleged victim in the Joseph Ruggieri case to her classmates while she was present.
Ruggieri, was arrested in February and accused of also trying to intimidate the victim several times using FaceTime.
Jason Cooper, 38, was arrested in February on charges he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with an 18-year-old female student.
KDKA learned that members of the school board met for an executive session Monday night for over two hours to discuss how the district handled the controversial student assembly Friday. That meeting was held behind closed doors with no comments made to the public or media.
During the assembly, students were told they could be arrested or charged for commenting on social media about the investigations.
Students stood outside Plum High School Monday morning to protest the controversial assembly.
“I don’t feel like I should be charged criminally as a person for giving my opinion to people,” Jordan Townsend said.
“It’s not right to tell us we can’t state our opinions on something and try and take our freedom away,” Tianna Trenchfield said.
Superintendent Timothy Glasspool released a statement regarding the issue:
“It is the position of the Plum Borough School District that the District will not take actions that infringe upon the First Amendment rights of its students or staff with respect to their use of social media. The District will not prevent or inhibit any individuals from engaging in constitutionally protected speech. The comments made at the assembly were not intended to infringe upon any First Amendment rights. It is not the District’s intent to prosecute or discipline any students for exercising those rights to the extent they are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Be assured that the intent of the assembly was to provide protection to all of our students. We would again urge that all individuals refrain from engaging in any irresponsible, harassing and/or intimidating communications with respect to the ongoing investigations.”
The ACLU also got involved after the controversy over freedom of speech.
“It’s not a very clear or great communication, but it’s enough to keep us from filing suit at this point. The ACLU will continue to monitor what’s going on and if there are any kind of threats or discipline of students for simply talking about the ongoing investigations, we may well take legal action at that time,” Vic Walczak, of the ACLU, said.
The ACLU also demanded another school and police assembly be held to clarify that students have First Amendment rights and won’t be arrested for comments made.
The ACLU threatened to get an order from a federal judge if demands were not met.
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