Lawyer alleges two harassed in Coatesville

Abdallah Hawa (right) the district's director of technology, and Theresa Powell (left), acting assistant superintendent, were targeted, a lawyer said.
Abdallah Hawa (right) the district's director of technology, and Theresa Powell (left), acting assistant superintendent, were targeted, a lawyer said. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 01, 2013

Since exposing racist and sexist texts between the former Coatesville Area School District superintendent and former high school athletic director, two district employees have been subjected to continuing harassment from administrators, including the acting superintendent, a lawyer for the two has alleged.

In an e-mail to the school board Sunday, Sam Stretton also called on acting superintendent Angelo Romaniello to step down.

In response, school board president Neil Campbell issued a statement on behalf of the district, calling Stretton's claim of harassment "ridiculous." The district was simply following policy regarding litigation it believed was possibly forthcoming on behalf of the two employees, technology director Abdallah Hawa and Teresa Powell, the acting assistant superintendent, Campbell said.

In a brief phone call Sunday, Romaniello said he "extremely, vehemently disagrees" with Stretton's allegations. He would not comment further.

Stretton told the school board that Hawa, who discovered the offensive texts that led the school board last week to accept the resignations of Superintendent Richard Como and athletic director James Donato, was ordered by Romaniello late last week to turn over passwords to the district's computer networks.

Hawa, in turn, contacted Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, who instructed him to "lock down the systems" and ensure that no one tampered with any data, Hawa said in an interview Sunday.

Hogan's office is conducting a criminal investigation into the district that school board officials have said was related to potential kickbacks involving high school football camps.

Hogan said Sunday his directive to Hawa to protect the computer system was "a commonsense instruction and an instruction that should have been given by the school district solicitor to the entire district as soon as he became aware there was a criminal investigation."

Hogan added: "Anybody who tampers with evidence or intimidates witnesses relating to this investigation will be arrested and prosecuted."

Hawa said he told Romaniello his department doesn't reveal system passwords for security reasons. But Romaniello told him to provide the passwords "under threat of insubordination" if he did not, according to Stretton's e-mail, and Hawa complied.

The district statement said officials requested the passwords because they had been notified on Thursday that Hawa and Powell had retained Stretton to "explore legal action against the district." As a result, the statement said, the district was required to retain any relevant records, and retained an IT firm to "inventory and image all records - which required passwords held by Hawa."

"The goal was to ensure that no files had been or would be altered or deleted," the district said in its statement.

Stretton said he hadn't contacted anyone on the school board or indicated he was planning to sue the district.

"I've never threatened to sue anyone," he said, adding that Hawa and Powell first spoke with him about 10 days ago, asking for advice on the situation.

Hawa said Sunday he was bewildered by the acting superintendent's password request.

"I don't understand it. I'm just beside myself," he said.

Powell, the administrator to whom Hawa first showed the offensive text messages he said he found on Como and Donato's district-issued cellphones, could not be reached for comment. Stretton said she had also been targeted by administrators.

He said Powell on Friday responded to a question from "two local ministers" about the percentage of black teachers in the district. Powell consulted with the district's human resources director, who, Stretton said, told her the answer was 10 percent. Powell told the human resources director she believed only 6.8 percent of district teachers were black, Stretton said.

As a result, "Dr. Powell was occupied for approximately five hours in meetings and providing responses to e-mails and requests for unnecessary questioning," Stretton said in his e-mail to the school board.

"This is not acceptable conduct in targeting courageous employees who did what they were supposed to do," Stretton told the board.

The district did not comment on the allegations regarding Powell, but it denied harassment claims regarding any employee.

"Any allegation that this board would harass or threaten any employee is ridiculous," the statement said. "We need to make sure we retain these records, and in fact we are required to maintain these records. We need to make sure that we protect all of the records housed on our servers, which include the Social Security numbers and other personal information of our employees."


awhelan@philly.com

610-313-8112

@aubreyjwhelan

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