Inappropriate student-teacher relationships in Lititz

Warwick High School in Lititz, Pa., has been roiled by teacher-student sex scandals. "I haven't seen anything like it, and I've been here since 1991," District Attorney Craig Stedman said.
Warwick High School in Lititz, Pa., has been roiled by teacher-student sex scandals. "I haven't seen anything like it, and I've been here since 1991," District Attorney Craig Stedman said.
Posted: May 24, 2009

LITITZ, Pa. - Bill Flickinger can understand one or two bad apples in a school district the size of Warwick, which serves the storybook-cute hamlet of Lititz.

But the school board president has a hard time explaining how so many faculty members have strayed into forbidden territory and had sexual relationships with students.

Since March, two former employees - the band director and an assistant - have been convicted of corruption of minors and sentenced to jail time or probation. A science teacher resigned last month, but no charges were filed because the student was 18, according to authorities.

And Troy R. May, a former coach of the Warwick girls' basketball team, is serving an 81/2- to 30-year prison term after pleading guilty in 2005 to more than a dozen sex crimes, including statutory sexual assault.

From July to October 2003, police said, the coach, then 36, had sex with a girl younger than 16 in the middle school athletic fields.

"I don't get it," said Flickinger, a Realtor in the Lancaster County borough, tucked into what some people call Pennsylvania's Bible Belt. "Young people are throwing their lives and careers away. They're just not thinking."

In a town founded as a Moravian religious enclave more than 250 years ago, residents insist the cluster of teacher-student sex scandals is an anomaly and not any kind of scarlet letter on its civic character. But the disclosures are the whispered talk of this town of Victorian homes, pretzel makers and chocolate factories, population 9,000 - named a "distinctive" U.S. destination this year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"I haven't seen anything like it, and I've been here since 1991," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. "It's obviously extremely disturbing to see this kind of betrayal of trust. You put kids in school and you want to know that they're going to be safe."

School administrators are not speaking publicly about the incidents, and calls to acting Superintendent Robert Lombardo and Warwick High School principal Brian Ginter were not returned.

Some parents are circling the wagons, too. Nancy Sweigart, with the Warwick Band Parents, said the group had opted not to speak out, noting "it certainly has been a sensitive subject for all of us."

Other parents and local officials said they were satisfied with the district's hiring procedures and handling of each case, even as they questioned what could be done to ensure abuse did not recur.

"We're not doing anything wrong. We're doing everything that we can within the legal parameters," Flickinger said.

Joe Kane, a borough councilman and parent of a Warwick high schooler, acknowledged the scandal "doesn't reflect well" on the community." But called the spotlight "unjust," saying that "because of our diligence it's been brought to light."

On March 3, high school and middle school band director Todd N. Sheerer, 30, was sentenced to three to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to corrupting a minor by engaging in a two-year affair with one of his students.

Sheerer, a married father employed by the district for five years, began the relationship in January 2006, when the student was 15. He was arrested after police got a tip about a couple in the backseat of a car parked behind a restaurant in Manheim Township, police said.

Sheerer's jeans were unzipped, and he told the officer that the girl was 19. The couple also met in the band room, according to police.

After his arrest, Sheerer posted $25,000 bail and was ordered to stay away from the student. While awaiting trial, he twice violated the bail agreement by calling her and meeting her behind her house and was returned to prison. He was fired in April 2008.

Last month, Michael David Gottier was sentenced to five years of probation for a misdemeanor charge of corrupting a minor.

The 22-year-old assistant band director was arrested in November after a two-month relationship with a 16-year-old female student with whom he communicated through Facebook, text messages, and phone calls throughout the day, according to police.

The two also met several times at a nearby lake, where they kissed and touched but did not have sex, police said. The student told authorities that she thought he loved her.

Also in April, science teacher Donnie Thornton, 25, resigned after state police investigated allegations of a relationship since December between the first-year teacher and a high school student.

Thornton was not charged because the student was 18, county prosecutor Karen Mansfield said.

Doug Bomberger, a Warwick High graduate with two sons in the school, said he wanted the board to create a committee of community volunteers to investigate rumors about teacher-student romances that may swirl through school hallways.

"When people talk, that's the first hint that something needs to be checked out," said Bomberger, also a councilman.

Warwick spokeswoman Lori Zimmerman declined to discuss whether Warwick was altering hiring policies, staff training, or student-education programs.

After the first arrest, that of Sheerer, the district brought in a lawyer to speak to the staff about professional conduct, said Rob Sperry, president of the school's faculty union.

"Right now, I'm just as shocked as everybody else," he said.

In 2008, Pennsylvania's Professional Standards and Practices Commission revoked or suspended, pending court decisions, the licenses of 14 teachers who had inappropriately touched, kissed, embraced, or had sex with students 17 or younger. Ten of the cases involved sex.

Last week a female teacher at North Penn High School in Lansdale was charged with having sex with a 17-year-old student and sending sexually explicit messages to another 17-year-old.

While federal data indicate that reported sex crimes against young people have fallen since the 1990s, there are no specific data for what goes on in schools, said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

Warwick's cases "certainly seem like a lot," Finkelhor said.

Colleges, he said, should do a better job preparing young teachers for the sometimes highly charged sexual atmosphere in high schools. Others say school districts need to do more teacher training.

Warwick school board president Flickinger is open to suggestions. "If anybody has solutions, I'm all ears."


To find teachers whose licenses have been revoked or suspended in Pennsylvania, go to

In New Jersey, go to


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|