Suspensions among long list of controversies involving school staff

Last updated: February 18. 2014 11:38PM - 5436 Views
By - mguydish@civitasmedia.com

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Add two area wrestling coaches to a growing list of school district employee problems.

Lake-Lehman Wrestling Coach Tom Williams was recently suspended for unspecified reasons, though Solicitor John Audi was quick Tuesday to dismiss rumors that Williams had forged documents to allow a wrestler to compete without proper medical clearance, wrestling with an infectious rash.

“I can say with certainty that the allegations you have been provided are incorrect,” Audi said of the rumor. “The wrestler in question was cleared by a doctor as not having a contagious rash.”

Audi declined to elaborate on the reasons Williams was suspended.

Also, a part-time Wyoming Seminary Upper School wrestling coach recently was suspended without pay following out-of-area police charges, spokeswoman Gail Smallwood confirmed Tuesday.

“In keeping with Wyoming Seminary policy, an assistant wrestling coach at the Upper School has been placed on administrative leave from his coaching duties, due to his recent arrest,” Smallwood relayed in an written statement. “He is not allowed on campus and is prohibited from having any contact with the wrestling team and Wyoming Seminary students.”

Smallwood declined to name the coach or incident other than to say it did not involve school students.

Other incidents

The suspensions are the latest in a string of controversies and disciplinary actions that have prompted public debate about school staff, background checks and what role the Internet and social media can and should play — though some cases have been more substantial, and more salacious, than others.

• Wilkes-Barre Area School District elementary teacher hit the spotlight last fall initially by being selected to appear on the ABC romance reality show, “The Bachelor,” but gained wider local notoriety for two different reasons: She had been granted a leave of absence to appear on the show without giving any reason for requesting the leave, and a racy video that included her surfaced on the web.

Elise Mosca was booted off the show but is still on leave until the end of this year. The board has taken no action against her and on Tuesday Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said he has not yet issued an official opinion as to any options the board might have.

Wendolowski has said the leave had to be granted because it has been a long-standing “past practice,” a claim supported by a review of school board agendas showing teachers regularly received leaves without giving a reason, a practice other districts said they do not follow.

• Former Wyoming Area School District teacher union president Lisa Barrett was sentenced to 12 months in prison last month after pleading guilty to federal charges she embezzled union funds. The government determined she took $59,732 but may have taken more. Barrett lost her positions in the district and the union.

• Wyoming Valley West English teacher Lauren Harrington-Cooper has faced multiple charges of sexual misconduct with students since the first charges were filed Dec. 18, 2013. Her case included the use of text messages and social media. The school board accepted her resignation Jan. 22.

• Hanover Area Junior/Senior High School social studies teacher Edward Evans, son of Board President Evelyn Evans, was accused to having oral sex with a male student he had been advising and was put on unpaid leave pending termination.

Both Harrington-Cooper and Evans were charged under the recently beef-up institutional sexual assault law, which was expanded from an initial intent of protecting prisoners to include school students. Until that change, the two would almost certainly have faced lesser charges.

• Wilkes-Barre Area School District dean of students at Coughlin High School Stephen Stahl was suspended without pay earlier this month as a result of a criminal investigation that led to charges he had a sexual relationships with a female minor more than 10 years ago.

• Wilkes-Barre Area English as Second Language teacher Karen Block was suspended with pay after pleading guilty Feb. 4 to animal cruelty. Police said she left antifreeze in pet bowls outside her Plains Township residence.

Those two incidents prompted School Board member Christine Katsock to read a prepared statement at the Feb. 10 meeting admitting the board had failed to adequately protect children and moving to require staff to not only get state-mandated criminal background checks before being hired, but that they “renew those clearance every three years.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the motion.

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