Retired teacher Patrick Collins admitted to having sexual relations in classrooms with suspended teacher Angela DiBattista in the most revealing testimony Tuesday evening during a three-hour McKeesport Area School District disciplinary hearing.
On a night when the district finished its case, McKeesport special counsel Carl Beard asked Mr. Collins whether he and Ms. DiBattista, both fourth-grade teachers, had an affair and whether they had sexual relations in a school setting.
Mr. Collins answered that he and Ms. DiBattista had sexual relations during their affair outside of school and "six, seven, eight" times in classrooms at Centennial Elementary and Cornell Intermediate schools.
His testimony further disclosed that both were married at the time of the affair, which ended in 2004, he said.
Mr. Beard asked Mr. Collins whether children were in the building during their sexual relations, and Mr. Collins answered, "No, sir. Never."
As previously reported in the Post-Gazette, Mr. Collins accepted a $58,000 settlement with the district in 2006, using a combination of sick days, personal days and health insurance, and his teaching certificate remained valid.
Ms. DiBattista, 54, did not accept a settlement offer when the district suspended her that year on charges of immorality. She requested a hearing in the matter and wanted it to be open to the public.
Mr. Collins was dismissed by the district in 2005 for charges that included harassment of Ms. DiBattista and violating district policy. A claim was made that he had brought a gun to school. He was absolved of all charges and reinstated by the district until his retirement in 2006.
He answered questions about the alleged harassment Tuesday night.
Mr. Beard asked whether Mr. Collins ever pushed or shoved Ms. DiBattista or whether he brought a weapon to school to harm her. Mr. Collins answered "No, sir" to both questions.
During cross examination, Ms. DiBattista's attorney, Chuck LoPresti, asked him whether his vehicle had been searched for a weapon and whether he knew the officers who conducted the search.
Mr. Collins pointed to school director Mark Holzman, who also is McKeesport's deputy police chief. The search found a hatchet, not a gun, under the front seat of Mr. Collins' Chevy S10, which he said was "used routinely for camping."
He also testified that he planned to tell his wife about the affair at the conclusion of the academic year in 2004, but denied saying he would tell Ms. DiBattista's husband.
Testimony further revealed that Ms. DiBattista was worried about her husband's reaction if he found out about their affair.
"She mentioned being afraid of what would happen if her husband found out," said Patty Tkacik, director of special education.
Ms. Tkacik and Michael V. Matta Jr., director of federal programs, investigated Mr. Collins' alleged harassment of Ms. DiBattista as the school's Title IV officers.
Mr. Matta is a first cousin of district solicitor Gary Matta and testified that "we never discuss school." Nicole and Michael E. Cherepko, teachers in the district, testified to telling Mr. Collins and Ms. DiBattista to "cool it" during an alleged argument inside a classroom in June 2004.
Mr. Cherepko also is vice president of McKeesport's City Council.
Ms. Cherepko said she was concerned the conversation was getting too loud because she "didn't want them to embarrass themselves."
She said Ms. DiBattista "appeared afraid" that Mr. Collins would tell his wife about the affair.
Mr. Cherepko said he was present, as a union representative, days after the incident when Mr. Collins was called into the superintendent's office.
Mr. LoPresti asked how Mr. Cherepko advised Ms. DiBattista regarding Mr. Collins telling his wife about the affair.
"I was pretty much dumbfounded. What am I supposed to do?" he said.
Mr. LoPresti rephrased the question: "Didn't you tell her don't go to administration because it's going to be bad for you?"
"I don't recall," Mr. Cherepko said. "It wasn't my job."
"If it wasn't your job, why were you [at the meeting]," Mr. LoPresti said.
"That's the million-dollar question," Mr. Cherepko said.
Acting superintendent Michael B. Brinkos provided the final testimony of the evening and said he would not want Ms. DiBattista back as a professional educator.
An associate with Mr. LoPresti's office, Krisha Mackulin, said Ms. DiBattista was allowed eight to nine months of teaching time from the point the former administration discovered Ms. DiBattista and Mr. Collins admitted to having sex in classrooms.
Ms. Mackulin asked Mr. Brinkos whether he would've allowed them to teach that long.
"No, I would not," he said.
Wayne Washowich, president, and Patricia Maksin were the only two board members absent from the hearing.
Ms. DiBattista's team will present witnesses at the next hearing at 5 p.m. June 21. At some point after that, the school board will vote on whether to reinstate her to her teaching job. She now is suspended without pay.
"You'll see a whole different side to the story," Mr. LoPresti said, "one that hasn't been told."
Candy Woodall, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org .