Friday, October 5, 2012
CAMDEN, N.J. — Six months ago, a student came to Triton High School Principal Catherine DePaul with a disturbing story: She believed another student was involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher at the school, and she’d seen explicit text messages the two had exchanged.
At that moment, prosecutors say, a cover-up was put in motion that ultimately unraveled Thursday when DePaul, an assistant principal and three teachers were charged with offenses ranging from child endangerment to sexual assault and official misconduct.
Each of the five adults has been suspended from the school in the Philadelphia suburb of Runnemede, and each could face at least five years in prison if convicted.
The teachers — all men in their late 20s or early 30s — are accused of striking up relationships with female students during the 2011-2012 school year.
Sexual relationships between teachers and students are not unheard of. Camden County prosecutor Warren Faulk noted that the media seems particularly fixated on the female teacher-male student cases that are reported around the country each year. But what distinguished the allegations at Triton High was the inaction by administrators who ignored policies and safeguards that were in place and instead allowed a culture “where teachers thought they could get away with improper relationships with their students,” according to Faulk.
“These charges constitute individual personal, moral, legal and ethical failure,” Faulk said at a news conference Thursday.
Faulk said rape charges could not be filed because the sex acts were consensual and the girls were 17 or 18 at the time — old enough to consent under state law.
According to court documents, math teacher Dan Michielli, 27, of Blackwood, had intercourse with a student multiple times during the school year. He is charged with official misconduct, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal sexual conduct.
Gym teacher and boys’ soccer coach Nick Martinelli, 28, of Cherry Hill, is charged with official misconduct involving an 18-year-old. Prosecutors say he touched and kissed the girl when she was a student and had intercourse with her after she graduated in June.
Math teacher and girls’ track coach Jeff Logandro, 32, of Blackwood, is charged with official misconduct, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. A court filing says he inappropriately touched a female student.
Authorities say a student, not one of the alleged victims, told a substitute teacher in April that teachers were “hooking up” with students. Authorities say the substitute teacher then told DePaul.
Prosecutors say the principal met with the student, who told her she’d been to one of the teacher’s homes with a girl who was involved with him and had seen the explicit text messages. Authorities say DePaul asked her to write an account of what she had heard and that Assistant Principal Jernee Kollock stayed with the student to help her write the statement, even helping her with her grammar — but also making it seem less serious.
Around the same time, Faulk said, DePaul learned one of the teachers had driven an alleged victim and another student to Ocean City in violation of district policy. But, he said, the teacher was merely reprimanded.
Faulk said neither administrator contacted authorities. Both were charged with official misconduct.
Faulk said DePaul later said she wished she had been more concerned for the students than the teachers.
The defendants either could not be reached or did not return messages left Thursday by The Associated Press. All five are due in court Oct. 11.
The teachers were suspended by the Black Horse Regional School District last month; the administrators were suspended Thursday. Superintendent John Golden said in a statement that the district was cooperating with authorities, notifying families of students of the allegations and offering counseling.
“In addition, we have initiated a comprehensive review of our existing policies, protocols and training and education materials to prevent this from happening again at this or any district school,” the statement said.