Learning A-b-sleaze

3 South Jersey teachers, 2 administrators charged in sex scandal

Posted: October 05, 2012

RUMORS HAD BEEN flying since the summer, rumors of wild sex among teachers and students from the South Jersey high school.

Those rumors turned into criminal charges Thursday, ensnaring not just three teachers at Triton Regional High School, but also their bosses for allegedly trying to cover it up.

Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk, at a news conference Thursday afternoon, said the sex scandal that shocked the school in Runnemede, Camden County, should serve as a "cautionary tale" to every other school.

"There has to be a professional teacher/student relationship and there has to be a separation between the teachers and the students. The mantra should be 'friendly but not familiar,' " Faulk said. "Teachers thought they could get away with improper relationships with their students, and administrators turned a blind eye."

Three teachers - Nicholas Martinelli, 28; Jeffrey Logandro, 32, and Daniel Michielli, 27 - had become quite familiar with three girls at Triton, allegedly having ongoing sexual relationships with them from November 2011 until June.

All three men were charged Thursday with official misconduct and have been suspended.

Triton's principal, Catherine DePaul, and a vice principal, Jernee Kollock, also were charged with official misconduct. Faulk said they were charged for conducting "a halfhearted and inadequate inquiry aimed primarily at protecting the teachers and covering up their relationships with the students."

DePaul, according to a probable-cause statement, admitted that she was in "denial" about the sexual allegations. A student uninvolved in the alleged affairs had presented the allegations to a substitute teacher in April, and the principal had tried to protect the teachers.

Faulk said DePaul "admitted in a statement" that "she should have done more to protect the students and not as much to protect the teachers." Both administrators allowed a "culture" to exist, Faulk said.

School district Superintendent John Golden issued a statement Thursday saying the district had "zero tolerance" for sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior of any kind. Golden said that DePaul, Kollock and the three teachers had been removed from the school and placed on administrative leave.

The teachers allegedly socialized with the girls outside school, prosecutors said, and communicated with them openly by phone and text messages, against school policy.

Prosecutors said investigators allege that one of the teachers traveled to Ocean City with students over Easter vacation and exchanged sexually explicit text messages, sometimes during instructional periods. The Ocean City trip prompted a student to come forward to DePaul, Faulk said.

Logandro and Michielli also are charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. Logandro, according to a probable-cause statement, admitted he touched a student intimately several times and later apologized to her family for kissing her.

Michielli, who is married, also is charged with sexual assault and, according to a probable-cause statement, admitted to having had sex with a student several times over the school year.

Michielli and Logandro, both math teachers, allegedly engaged in sexual activity with students who were under age 18, prosecutors said.

Martinelli, according to his probable-cause statement, also had sex with a student.

Faulk said the three teachers were friends. Students said the girls, who graduated last year, were also friends. Family members of the female students declined to comment Thursday.

None of the three teachers charged Thursday responded to requests for comment.

Martinelli, a former assistant soccer coach at Philadelphia University and a standout player at Rowan University in Glassboro, taught physical education and was the boys' soccer coach. He also helped coach a girls' youth soccer team in Gloucester Township. Logandro coached girls' cross-country and track.

No one answered the door at DePaul's Deptford Township townhouse Thursday, and she did not return a phone call seeking comment.

When DePaul allegedly asked the informing student to write a statement, prosecutors said, Kollock allegedly advised the student on what to write and corrected versions of the account. Kollock could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Although students had been talking about the rumors since the summer, Twitter talk ramped up Thursday, with teens expressing embarrassment, an odd sense of pride, and shock.

One student summed it up by comparing the scandal to a larger one. "triton=penn state," the girl posted on Twitter Thursday.

On Thursday afternoon, Triton students pouring out of the school said it was a relief to finally put the rumors to rest.

"Everyone knew about this in one way or another, but no one ever said a word to us," said Bud Burke, 18. "One day the teachers were here, the next day they weren't, and we had no answers."

Students cracked jokes and crowded the television cameras, eager to learn steamy details, even to defend teachers who had relationships with 18-year-old students.

"I honestly don't see a problem with it," said student Jacob Alazruei.

One somber Triton student in the crowd said her schoolmates' behavior was proof that teens, even if they're adults or close to it, shouldn't be getting into relationships with teachers.

"It doesn't matter if it was consensual, it was still wrong and they got taken advantage of," Alycia Nucifore, 17, said of the three former Triton students who authorities say had sexual relationships with male teachers. "It's just really wrong, and really sad."

At Wednesday's back-to-school night at Triton, many parents said that they'd heard rumors but nothing else, and that when they confronted the administration they heard nothing.

"I called the school on Monday," said a Triton parent from Gloucester Township who asked that her name not be published. "I have four girls there, and I wanted to know if they were safe. They just said, 'No comment.' "

A father of Triton students who asked that his name not be published said the school failed the children miserably.

"They needed to be out in front of this before all these rumors were circulating," he said. "I know of at least one teacher whose name was thrown out there that was not involved at all."

Contact Jason Nark at narkj@phillynews.com or 215-854-5916. Follow him on Twitter @JasonNark.

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