Demand for action follows Plum grand jury report on school district
May 20, 2016 12:00 AM
Officials in the Plum School District said they were “relieved” that district employees would face no criminal charges as a result of a lengthy grand jury investigation.
By Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Officials in the Plum Borough School District said they were “relieved” that district employees would face no criminal charges as a result of Thursday’s lengthy grand jury report on the yearlong sex scandal at Plum High School, but reaction in other quarters was swift and severe.
“It doesn’t look good,” said parent Bill Chapla of the 89-page grand jury report released by the Allegheny County district attorney’s office.
“I think the taxpayers and the students all deserve better,” said Alison C. Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape. “It’s very disheartening to think that the people who were in charge of the students’ safety and pillars of the community acted like this. They didn’t do the right thing for the very students who they were supposed to protect.”
Despite the grand jury’s recommendation that criminal charges couldn’t be sustained against district officials because of a lack of documentation and recent statutory changes, Mr. Chapla and Ms. Hall agreed that responsibility should start at the top.
“There needs to be a change in leadership,” said Mr. Chapla, whose son is a senior at Plum High School.
“I totally understand the confines of the laws and how the laws were in transition at that time, but to me that doesn’t preclude school district officials from doing the right thing in protecting their students,” Ms. Hall said. “The tenure of [superintendent Timothy Glasspool] was described as a ‘culture of dysfunction.’ I would think they would take a look at how they are spending the district resources.”
Legislators noted that recent updates have been made to child protection laws.
Mandated reporters, who include school employees, now are required to make an immediate verbal or online report to the state’s ChildLine and follow up in writing within 48 hours to the Department of Human Services or a county children and youth agency, said Michael Herzing, a spokesman for House Democrats.
“I think we at least have to look at our update from last year and these suggestions or recommendations from the grand jury report and make sure there are no holes,” said Rep. Joseph Petrarca of Westmoreland County, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Penn Hills, whose district includes part of Plum, said he would have no problem with strengthening protections for students.
“The more we do to protect our children in the schools from these sexual predators, the better,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This document contains graphic language
Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, who also represents part of Plum, said: “Anything I can do and we as legislators can do to enhance the safety of our students I think we ought to take very seriously and certainly look into any advice from anybody relative to what we should do.”
School board President Kevin Dowdell said the board will need time to digest the full report before it acts.
“The board will need time to read the report and decide on any corrective action if necessary,” Mr. Dowdell said in a brief statement. “On one hand we are relieved that we finally have the report, but at the same time disappointed that it has taken this long. We have been waiting since December for the report. Since these allegations occurred last year, we have implemented several corrective actions, such as, a Safety & Supportive Schools committee, created new policies and made corrections to existing policies, we have implemented training programs, initiated an anonymous hotline, among other measures with the objective of preventing any similar behavior in the future.”
The board released a statement on the district website, saying it would begin an internal review that should be completed by early June.
“While we are relieved that there are no indictments, we will conduct an internal review based on this report as it relates to the district’s policies, practices and people,” the statement said. “While it took the grand jury many months to investigate and reach this point, we must determine what recommendations made in it are either currently being addressed or need to be, and if any further actions may be required or taken by this board.”
As for whether the school board should share the burden of blame, Mr. Chapla said he and the people he has spoken with in the community are willing to give the board a chance to right the ship.
“I think we’ll see in the near future what decisions the board makes with the administration, then whatever the consensus of the community is will decide the school board’s fate,” he said. “I’m going to wait and see how the school board reacts to it and go from there.”
Janice Crompton: email@example.com, 412-263-1159 or on Twitter @janicecrompton. Karen Langley contributed.
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