Parents claim Avonworth teacher had 'free rein'

Avonworth investigates molestation allegations

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In light of recent reports from teachers and students that music teacher Walter Street has inappropriately touched elementary school children, parents in the Avonworth School District plan to question the school board at tonight's meeting about the district's response to allegations in 2009 that he had molested a female relative.

"There's a lot of outrage in the community," said Rebecca Stetser, who has three children in the district. "What I want is an accounting of what they've done to address this."

Mr. Street, 59, of Ben Avon, the former high school band director who moved to Avonworth Elementary in 2009 to teach music and direct the chorus, has been charged with raping a relative, now 22, starting when she was 10.

The concern among parents is whether he had other victims over the years and what the school did about suspicions after 2009, when the alleged victim initially told police she had been molested. The girl, 17 at the time, twice recanted the story in talking to police, both times in the presence of her mother.

Ms. Stetser and other parents are asking why Mr. Street was given what Ms. Stetser described as "free rein" at the elementary school for the last four years when the district knew an allegation of sexual abuse against a child had been leveled against him.

In a letter she wrote last week to superintendent Thomas Ralston that will also be presented to the school board, she said the district should have been more vigilant about Mr. Street's conduct at school.

"One would also assume that they would never allow Street to have chorus practice before and after school and be alone with fourth- and fifth-graders," she wrote. "That man should have been walking on eggshells there every day, but instead, it appears that he was completely at ease."

Ohio Township Cpl. Chris Simcoviak, the Avonworth school resource officer, said the recent investigation began after Christmas when fellow teachers at the school told administrators that Mr. Street was acting too "touchy-feely" with students in the cafeteria, such as holding them in his lap and hugging them.

Mr. Ralston then examined Mr. Street's school laptop and found a letter addressed to the alleged victim that made reference to a sexual relationship. After the computer was turned over to police, Cpl. Simcoviak contacted the woman and showed her the letter.

He said she then indicated that her original allegations from 2009 were true, and police arrested Mr. Street.

Since then, students and parents have come forward to report similar conduct by Mr. Street that the teachers had described.

In her letter to Mr. Ralston, Ms. Stetser recounted anecdotes from parents and students about Mr. Street routinely hugging girls and having them sit on his lap, among other accusations.

"This behavior is incredibly alarming, and I think it is important that we get a full accounting of what happened back in 2009 so that we can understand how we got to this place now," she wrote.

Dana Hackley, public relations director for the district, said school officials welcome parental input at the meeting but said school officials cannot comment on the Street case.

"We appreciate parents' concerns," she said. "But we've been instructed by the Ohio Township police not to discuss this because it is an ongoing investigation."

Police said they have identified no other victims but said they and the district attorney's office are not finished with the case.

One element they are exploring is reaching out to other relatives who have lived in the Street home. In addition to their biological children and several adopted children, Mr. Street and his wife have taken in many foster children over the years.

Mr. Street is charged with 12 counts of rape, aggravated indecent assault, incest, corruption of minors and related offenses.


Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.


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