The Black Horse Pike Regional School District (BHPRSD) Board of Education on Thursday night unanimously authorized district administrators to stop paying five Triton Regional High School educators suspended in a teacher-student sex case as soon as possible and without requiring further board action.
The five educators charged in the sex scandal—teachers Jeffrey Logandro, 32, Nicholas Martinelli, 28, and Daniel Michielli, 27, and administrators Catherine DePaul, 55, and Jernee Kollock, 39—currently are suspended with pay.
Under New Jersey state law, school districts can only take away suspended educators' paychecks when they have been indicted on criminal charges, tenure charges seeking their termination have been filed, or the state has revoked their education licenses.
BHPRSD attorney John Wade took the majority of questions from the crowd during the meeting. After Thursday night's roughly hour-long session, Wade noted that the board's "hands are tied" as it relates to bringing tenure charges against the suspended educators due to the ongoing nature of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office investigation into alleged faculty misconduct at Triton.
A near standing-room-only crowd filled the Timber Creek Regional High School library and media center for the BHPRSD board's first public meeting since Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk announced charges on Oct. 4 against three teachers accused of sexual relationships with now-former Triton students and two administrators who allegedly tried to sweep a report of teacher-student sex under the rug last spring.
"While we cannot change the past, together we can move the school forward," Superintendent John Golden said at the beginning of the meeting.
Logandro and Michielli—both math teachers—are charged with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and official misconduct and fourth-degree criminal sexual contact. Michielli is additionally charged with second-degree sexual assault.
Their alleged victims were 17 years old.
Martinelli, a gym teacher, is charged only with official misconduct, as his victim was 18 years old at the time of the alleged sexual contact. According to court documents released by the prosecutor's office, Martinelli did not engage in sexual intercourse with the student until after she had graduated from the Runnemede school.
The alleged relationships between the three teachers and three female students took place between November 2011 and June 2012. The prosecutor's office reportedly began its investigation sometime in August.
The teachers were suspended at different times late this summer and early in the 2012-13 school year.
DePaul and Kollock are charged with second-degree official misconduct for allegedly attempting to cover up information of teacher-student sex brought to their attention in April after a student had confided in a substitute teacher. They were suspended Oct. 3.
Kollock left Triton to become vice principal at Timber Creek July 1.
Golden told a concerned Timber Creek parent Kollock's transfer "had nothing to do with anything that took place at Triton." He indicated he and Kollock first discussed the transfer, which reportedly was finalized on April 30, back in March.
Golden read a statement at the beginning of Thursday's meeting in which he noted the prosecutor's office investigation "determined that the incidents were not a failure of our school district's policies and protocols, which have been place for a number of years."
He did add, however, that with social media and text messages "blurring the lines of appropriate interaction," the district is "redoubling" its efforts to educate and monitor "all of our staff, teachers, administrators and students to make the most moral and safe choices both in and out of the classroom."
PR spending questioned, defended
The district estimates it will pay Philadelphia public-relations firm Braithwaite Communications $10,000 to $15,000 for its work handling the "media barrage" following last week's announcement of criminal charges against three teachers and two administrators at Triton, Wade said.
Wade noted Braithwaite charged his firm a $5,000 retainer fee and will bill the district through his firm at an hourly rate.
"Wade, Long, Wood & Kennedy will provide the district with a billing statement that will reflect any bills that we pay," he said.
Some residents clearly do not support the district's decision to hire a public-relations firm.
"I think this is a big waste of money," Gloucester Township resident David Gray told the board and district administrators. "You could've probably bought a half-dozen computers with the retainer fee. ... I'm asking all of you board members to fire the public relations company. That's all I'm asking. I think it's a bad idea."
Wade consulted with Golden and other BHPRSD administrators, as well school board President Joyce Ellis and Vice President Kevin Bucceroni, before his firm—Wade, Long, Wood & Kennedy—opted to hire Braithwaite on Oct. 4 for what he labeled "crisis management."
BHPRSD does not have a public information officer on its payroll.
"By doing this, we've created a situation that gives the central office and our legal staff more time to deal effectively with the issues that we were dealing with on a 24-hour basis," Wade said.
The board has not yet voted to approve the Braithwaite agreement.
"How is that legal—an expenditure of tax dollars without the approval of this board? That is a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act," Gloucester City resident John Schmidt said. "You cannot spend funds until it is approved at a public meeting and the public has a chance to comment."
"The board has not expended any funds. It is through my law firm that retained the services of the media consultants," Wade responded.
Gloucester Township Patch has submitted an Open Public Records Act request for a copy of the Braithwaite agreement. Wade indicated the district planned to respond to the request, filed on Oct. 5, on Friday.
Alumna stands up for school
Nearly as many speakers at Thursday's meeting defended Triton's staff as questioned decisions made by the board and district in the wake of the prosecutor's office investigation.
Allison McDermott, a 2007 Triton graduate, was one speaker who called on the board and community to not allow the alleged actions of a handful to spoil the school's reputation.
"I truly feel the teachers I had at Triton encouraged me, supported me and helped me become successful," McDermott, a Montclair State University graduate, said. "I ask that the thoughts and actions of the few do not overshadow the wonderful legacy that Triton has and I hope continues to have."
For more on the Triton teacher-student sex charges, visit:
- Suspended Triton Educators Still Drawing Paychecks?
- School District Hires PR Firm in Wake of Triton Sex Scandal
- District, Superintendent Issue Statements on Triton Sex Scandal
- 'Shocked,' 'Astonished' Triton Students React to Sex Scandal
- [UPDATE] Triton Teachers Under Investigation