PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – A grand jury has recommended no criminal charges against officials in the Plum Borough School District where two teachers have been convicted of having sex with students and two more face related charges.

The report issued Thursday by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office found “systematic failures to protect students” in the school district but concluded no school official broke laws requiring police to be notified of teacher sex allegations or other inappropriate conduct.

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“We attribute these failures in large part to an academic culture that encouraged the protection of friends and colleagues over students, insularity, avoidance of personal responsibility in favor of shifting the onus onto others without follow up, and turning a blind eye to obvious signs of teacher misconduct,” the report says.

 

Two male teachers charged last year have pleaded guilty and been sentenced to prison for sexual relationships with female students.

Joseph Ruggieri, 41, will spend two to five years in prison and five years on probation. Jason Cooper, 39, was sentenced to jail for 18 to 36 months.

Ruggieri pleaded guilty last month to charges of institutional sex assault and corruption of minors. He also pleaded guilty to witness intimidation after authorities said he contacted his victim while free on bond.

Cooper pleaded guilty to student sex charges.

A former substitute math teacher and baseball coach, Michael Cinefra, is still awaiting trial on student-sex charges; and a suspended teacher, Drew Zoldak, is also charged with intimidating one of the accusers by pointing her out in class. They’ve denied wrongdoing.

Superintendent Tim Glasspool is criticized in the report for failing to report allegations to Childline, the state child abuse line.

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In an email to KDKA, Glasspool said he had taken the advice his attorney not to report rumors:

I believe under the law, a rumor is not “reasonable cause to suspect.” I disagree that following the legal advice of one’s attorney is a dereliction of one’s statutory duty…Nonetheless, there is no advantage attempting to correct these inaccuracies and conclusions referenced in the presentment, as the goal is to move forward.

The grand jury said it was “tempted to affix criminal liability on other individuals who were clearly derelict in their duties to protect the children in their care” but the way statutes are worded and a “lack of documentation” by administrators and the district’s school resource officer prevented that.

The report traces inaction on the part of the district to December 2011 when allegations first surfaced against Ruggierri. It states that School Resources Officer Mark Kost failed to contact police or make a detailed report.

The grand jury noted that some of the allegations that led to the teachers’ arrests occurred as state law was changing regarding who had a legal duty to report such information and how that was to be done.

State laws changed greatly after the child sex scandal at Penn State University, where former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of molesting several boys, some on campus. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 and is in prison but maintains he’s innocent.

Following the release of the report, the Plum School Board released a statement. It reads in part:

“There is no question these cases have challenged our District to set the bar high in terms of our child safety guidelines and reporting process. We have taken meaningful corrective actions and measures – including the development of a safe and supportive schools committee, revised policies and procedures, and training. We are focused on more effective transparency, communication and scrutiny when it comes to staff/student relations, with particular emphasis on social media and staff awareness of warning signs and reporting requirements.”

 

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