Runnemede school dealing with sex-scandal fallout

Runnemede's Triton High. Three teachers, two administrators are charged in a sex scandal.
Runnemede's Triton High. Three teachers, two administrators are charged in a sex scandal. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 07, 2012

Since summer, parents at Triton Regional High in Runnemede had heard rumors from their children about a brewing sex scandal involving staff and students.

A day after Thursday's news that charges had been filed against not only three male teachers, but also the principal and former assistant principal, who allegedly covered up the relationships with 12th graders, parents said they still were being kept in the dark by the Black Horse Pike Regional School District.

"All I got was a [recorded] phone call saying there was an incident of a sexual nature and they wanted to let the parents know about it," said Robert Cannon, who has a 15-year-old son at Triton. "Everyone's been trying to figure out what was going on for months."

The district also sent an e-mail message in which it expressed "zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior of any kind" by staff.

The turmoil in the Camden County school - which has more than 1,500 students from Gloucester Township, Runnemede, and Bellmawr - follows a two-month criminal investigation that led to allegations that the teachers were involved with three senior girls throughout the last academic year, exchanging intimate texts and having sexual contact that, in the case of two of the students, included intercourse.

When the principal was informed of the relationships by a student in the spring, she and her assistant worked to keep it quiet, according to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

The school district maintains it was unaware of the relationships until the Prosecutor's Office was tipped off by an informant and began asking questions in late summer. With an open criminal investigation under way, education officials had no choice but to stay quiet despite parents' inquiries, a district representative said Friday.

Despite news coverage earlier Thursday, "we had to wait until they were officially charged," spokeswoman Sarah Lindsey said. "The prosecutor's press conference was at 3 p.m. Our e-mail blast went out at 3:10 p.m."

Superintendent John Golden was among those taking phone calls Friday from worried parents. During homeroom, administrators at the district's four high schools also went on the intercom to announce the arrests and to advise students - who had been furiously posting online and tweeting - to be careful about what they wrote.

"We just wanted to remind them: Social media is public," Lindsey said.

After classes let out for the week, students took questions from reporters gathered outside the school. But mostly, the teenagers on the sidewalk talked among themselves.

The teachers - Nick Martinelli, 28, of Cherry Hill, and Jeff Logandro, 32, and Dan Michielli, 27, both of Blackwood - were popular with students, said Cordelia Horan, 18, who had been in Logandro's math class. Michielli also taught math and had been the senior class adviser; Martinelli was a gym instructor. Logandro and Martinelli coached teams at the school. The three teachers were friends.

Logandro "wasn't strict," Horan said. "The teachers here are pretty cool. They'll be, like, 'Hey, what's up? How was your weekend?' "

The three, along with principal Catherine DePaul and former assistant principal Jernee Kollock, have been charged with official misconduct, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. They have been suspended from the school indefinitely, according to the district.

Their attorneys did not return phone calls or declined to comment Friday.

Logandro and Michielli face the harshest charges because the students with whom they were allegedly involved were under 18 at the time. Michielli has been charged with sexual assault; Logandro, who allegedly never had sex with his victim, was charged with criminal sexual contact.

The New Jersey Board of Examiners is to review the criminal charges at a Nov. 2 hearing that could result in revocation of the educational licenses of all five accused. The licenses are a requirement to work in New Jersey public schools.

The district will not face sanctions because the crimes are considered individual offenses, said a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Education.

The district does face potential lawsuits on the grounds that officials it employed covered up the alleged offenses, causing emotional damage to the victims, said Mike Berger, former president of the New Jersey Justice Association, which represents plaintiffs' attorneys.

"The responsibility of the school administrators, first and foremost, is to protect the students. From teachers who are overreaching socially and sexually, and from [students] themselves," he said. "They have a potential liability for failing to police the actions of those teachers and the students."

The district and the New Jersey School Boards Association declined to comment on potential litigation.

As school let out Friday, students already were eager to move beyond the week's news. A girls' soccer game scheduled for the afternoon had been canceled, and a group of teenage girls chanted "leave us alone" at passing news crews.

Waiting on the sidewalk with a friend, Emily Hering, 16, was making plans for the weekend.

"This whole thing," she said, "has been blown way out of proportion."


Contact James Osborne

at 856-779-3876 or jaosborne@phillynews.com.

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