Conestoga High School Student Sexual Assault Case: Federal Lawsuit Filed — Lawsuit in Separate Case Pending

This is a follow-up post to my last post “TE School District served with another lawsuit” dated June 8. After posting the previous article, I was emailed a copy of the federal lawsuit and  press release from Ross Feller Casey, the Philadelphia law firm who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of the 15-year-old victim in the case.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, it states that the law firm, “filed a federal lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and the principal of Conestoga High School alleging administrators and teachers at the High School created and tolerated a culture that emboldened Arthur Phillips, a 67-year old instructional aide, to repeatedly sexually abuse a female student.”

Among other things, the federal lawsuit alleges that “Phillips, an instructional aide in the television production studio at Conestoga since 2006, engaged in a classic yet disturbing pattern of sexual grooming and assault against a student starting when she was only 15 years old.”

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has criminally charged Arthur Phillips with over 100 counts, including 10 felony charges of statutory sexual assault and 10 felony charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. According to the lawsuit, the sexual assaults were daily between January and mid-April of this year and allegedly “took place in various locations at Conestoga High School, including the school’s TV studio, Phillips’ office, Conestoga’s parking lot and in Phillips’ automobile”.

According to Pennsylvania state law, “Statutory sexual assault becomes a first-degree felony offense in cases when the accused is 11 years, or older, than the minor. If convicted of this charge, a person could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Additionally, he or she may be fined up to $25,000.” The minor in this case is a 15-year old female and the accused is a 67-year old male, 52 years her senior.  And remember, the ten counts of statutory sexual assault is only one of the criminal charges against Phillips – if convicted, this man is going to prison for a very, very long time.

The lawsuit is against TE School District and Conestoga Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger, but numerous other CHS teachers and administrators are identified in the 36-page lawsuit.  The lawsuit is a public document but because 14 different CHS teachers or administrators (in addition to Meisinger) are identified by name, I will not upload it to Community Matters. To be clear, the only T/E School District administrator being sued in this lawsuit is Meisinger.

I have read the lawsuit several times. It contains many graphic and sexually explicit details that do not need to be repeated here. As the mother of a daughter, I cannot imagine the horror of this situation for the girl and her family.

What is remarkable is the level of detail contained in the lawsuit of places that Phillips took the student during school hours and after school including Berwyn Pizza, Handel’s Ice Cream and restaurants such as Estia (Radnor), Christopher’s in Wayne and City Works Eatery and Pour House (King of Prussia). Phillips and the student went to multiple Wawa convenience stores in the area including Malvern, Paoli, King of Prussia, Audubon and Norristown. Additionally, Phillips took her on shopping trips to the King of Prussia Mall and ice skating in Dilworth Park outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, and to the IFly Indoor Skydiving Center and to Valley Forge Casino.  Phillips gave the student numerous items, including gift cards.

My guess is there would be security cameras, date and time stamped credit card processing receipts, etc. from most of these locations. According to the lawsuit, “many of Phillips contacts with Plaintiff are documented on Conestoga’s video monitoring system, including those cameras used to observe school entrances and exits and around the bus drop-off/pickup location.”  The lawsuit claims that the school district “failed to review the camera footage and failed to intervene in the outwardly inappropriate and illegal behavior of Phillips” which therefore constitutes a “systematic violation of school district policies”.

To celebrate her birthday, Phillips and the student ‘double-dated’ with a Conestoga teacher and her husband at Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar in King of Prussia. According to the lawsuit, “numerous district officials and teachers were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship with the girl but failed to take steps to investigate or halt the conduct”.  Further, the lawsuit alleges that Phillips’ office was decorated with homemade signs that included the girl’s initials, her first name and the word “love”.

The lawsuit alleges that Phillips continually wrote ‘hall passes’ for the student to miss class when school district policy only permits a teacher (not an aide) to write these passes.  It is alleged that “none of the teachers who received these ‘hall passes’ filled out by Phillips took any action to investigate, manage, question or stop said absences or tardiness”.  Between January and mid-April of this year, the student missed over 20 English classes yet the teacher (allegedly) never discussed the absences with the parents.

Ross Feller Casey is also representing the parent of the 17-year old male CHS student who was sexually abused by another Conestoga staff member, 26-year-old teacher’s aide Christine Towers. Towers was convicted earlier this year and is currently serving time for the crime. The law firm is investigating a separate federal lawsuit against TE School District in that case. In both the Towers case and the Phillips case, the parents of the two abused students are calling for the resignation of the Conestoga principal.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, attorney Matt Casey stated, “The heartbroken parents I represent, and their children, are demanding accountability on the part of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, something that has yet to be achieved despite repeated, shocking instances of sexual abuse at Conestoga High School. The already-known facts lay bare a school district custom of deliberately turning a blind eye to criminal acts in its midst.”  To support this claim, the lawsuit includes the middle school sexting scandal, the football hazing incident and the teacher’s aide who sexually abused the male student case prior to this latest criminal investigation – all occurring in the last couple of years.

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The school board meeting is tomorrow, Monday, June 12, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School and includes the adoption of the 2017-18 final budget. The meeting agenda continues to list the teachers’ contract (TEEA), the non-instructional contract (TENIG) and Act 93 Agreement (administrators) as ‘TBD’ in the proposed final budget. The contracts constitute 70% of the District budget yet the budget includes no contingencies.  However, it is noted that on page 293 of the agenda, we see that the school board will take a vote on giving administrators a 1.7% increase to their 2016-17 base salary plus a one-time bonus of 1% to be paid in June 2018.

Since the last regular meeting of the school board, there have been two lawsuits filed against the District … the agenda makes no mention of either.

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23 Comments

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  1. Ms. Benson, thank you for sharing the lawsuit information.
    Too late to list all the questions I have but one really bothers me.
    Where were the victim’s parents in all this?
    Something this vile changes how a child acts- how they present themselves.
    Did they even notice or question where she was going-who she was spending her time with?
    Shocked.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    TESD Mom, I understand what you are asking but that information was not in the lawsuit. I will say it was the child’s mother who is responsible for bringing the situation to a head.

    According to the lawsuit, on the first day of spring break, the girl was walking the family dog when the mother saw her talking to a man (who turned out to be Phillips) in a car, parked close to their house. Not receiving an adequate response from the child as to why Phillips was there, the mother got in her car and followed him. (At this point, the student had not told her parents what was really going on). The mother followed Phillips on to Rt. 202 – he exited and she followed him. At this point, he made a u-turn in the street and due to traffic, the mother lost him. The first day back to school after spring break, the parents went to the high school, concerned as to why Phillips had been so close to their home (especially given it was spring break) and seeking answers. Initially, the administrator supported Phillips, assuring them that the aide was OK, and the parents returned home. After the parents left, the administrator went to various staff members and also to the student — and eventually arrived at the conclusion that something had been going on. The parents were called and asked to return to the high school and the police were called leading to Phillips dismissal and arrest. Let me repeat — this is what allegedly occurred, as is contained in the lawsuit.

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    MARGARET L SWEETWOOD Reply:

    The school and ONLY the school is responsible for this student’s safety during the school day. An employee should have and probably DID notice a great deal without doing anything, despite being “mandated reporters.” Thank God her mom was watchful on this occasion and did the right thing. The mom did NOT have access to security tapes, unauthorized hall passes, etc. THE SCHOOL OWNS THIS AND ALL INVOLVED SHOULD BE HELD CRIMINALLY ACCOUNTABLE.

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  2. Also as alleged in the lawsuit, the girl was an A student in January at the time the daily sexual assaults begin. However, due to the many class absences (as arranged by Phillips with the ‘hall passes’), etc. the students grades dropped during this period until mid-April when Phillips was arrested.

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  3. Since it’s public knowledge, where can we get a copy of the lawsuit?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    The federal lawsuit has been filed with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

    [Reply]

  4. What is the significance, if any of it being a Federal lawsuit as opposed to a local or County lawsuit?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I am NOT an attorney but this is my interpretation. There is jurisdiction criteria for a federal lawsuit including seeking damages of $75,000 or more and for certain violations, including civil rights. The lawsuit against TE School District and Amy Meisinger is based on the following:
    Count 1 Plaintiff vs Defendants: Civil Rights Violation under 42 U.S.C. 1983
    Count 2 Plaintiffs vs Defendants: Violation of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681

    [Reply]

  5. At a time when such such appalling allegations are being made, it seems insensitive to bring up a minor budget matter, but I do because it can illustrate whether our School Board wants to stand up to an Administration intent on cover up.

    Tonight’s agenda includes recommendation for salaries for the Supervisor Confidential category: generally the Maintenance and Business office staff. As in previous years, no reference data is provided, just the proposed salaries. Which turn out to represent average increases of 3.5%, 40% over the Act 1 Index and over twice the rate of inflation. What is it that justifies these exceptional rewards? Rewards that continue a three year pattern of 3-4% increases every year. Rewards that are compounded by the 30% PSERS and other benefits increases. Rewards that are further increased by new positions – another maintenance supervisor last year to oversee the new building. Rewards that set a benchmark for contract negotiations.

    It’s time for the Board to actually govern.

    [Reply]

  6. In the consent agenda:

    A new Principal at New Eagle

    A new curriculum supervisor

    Another newly created position for a Dr. Torres: Director of State and Federal Programs at a 5% Salary Increase.

    Along with the new Athletic Director position, comes another added position, secretary to the Athletic Director, this knee jerk decision alone costs the District $200,000 per year in recurring costs.

    When will the Board demand that Administrators take care of students instead of themselves?

    [Reply]

  7. Where is the accountability and responsibility in this school district? This latest lawsuit happens two weeks from the filing of the lawsuit by the assistant coach. And according to this article, there is good chance of a third lawsuit, another sexual abuse case coming down the pike.

    What is the school board and the administration doing? This poor girl’s life is ruined by this monster, an employee of the school district! How could this have gone on daily for 3-1/2 months and nobody did anything?

    How could this A student miss so many classes and no one is concerned. What didn’t the teachers communicate these absences and the hall passes signed by an aide to the administration?

    Why weren’t the parents informed that the student was missing classes? This girl is leaving the school with this man in the middle of the day and no one sees or hears anything? Oh come on.

    The school board and the administration should worry less about school rankings and Ivy League admissions and more about keeping our children safe!

    [Reply]

  8. They only care about themselves and their pay and their pay increases. The Board is afraid of them so gives them whatever they want. If parents say anything, they are made the target. They ignore students, enrich themselves and thumb their noses at anyone who dares to question them.

    [Reply]

  9. Sad all around. This looming lawsuit may explain why the administrators at Commencement last week seemed so “off.” Many, many student surnames were mispronounced as the kids walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Either nervousness or lack of caring/attention to detail, or both. I agree wholeheartedly with “Outraged in T/E.” Our children’s safety is worth so much more than rankings and college destinations.

    [Reply]

    Parent Reply:

    The mispronounced names at commencement were due to something other than the lawsuit. It was filed after the ceremony took place.

    [Reply]

  10. 14 Administrators and teachers are mentioned in the lawsuit. Dr. Amy Meisinger is the only Administrator being sued. Will the teachers who had direct knowledge of the abuse be sued?

    If 14 were named, 42 knew.

    Nightmare

    [Reply]

  11. So the principal is not mentioned in the lawsuit as having any specific knowledge of anything happening. But the Asst principal actually saw something between the student and the aide and did nothing about it. Multiple teachers/aides who had some contact and should have questioned behavior they witnessed.
    I started typing all the names but I figured if Pattye didn’t put them in the story then she isn’t going to post them, which is her right.
    I guess 600 kids in a class is just too many to be managed. I figure the teachers care, but maybe they figure someone else will take an interest.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    I made the decision not to list all the teachers/administrators that are identified in the lawsuit. At this point, these are allegations about who knew what and when — and I didn’t think it necessary to publicize the names. But as I said in the article I counted names of 14 different teachers/administrators in addition to Amy Meisinger. Since it appears that you have read the lawsuit, you will also note that the attorneys make the suggestion that there could other T/E employees who had knowledge and have yet to be named.

    This is a serious situation. I had a phone call from a friend today and in discussing the lawsuit, he made the point that the insurance will not kick-in if the District is found guilty. But even if the insurance were to cover the situation, there is a limit of coverage ($2 million??). The District has about $32 million in Fund Balance — what would happen if the settlement in the lawsuit was more? I was told this a way that school districts become bankrupt. Again, neither my friend or I are attorneys, but this federal lawsuit is starting to take on even greater significance. And remember, this is one of a potential 3 lawsuits.

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  12. The supervisor Principal will be held to the standard of “knew or should have known” what was happening.
    There is no “I did not know”or I was not aware the crimes were occurring.
    The school should suspend any employee under their contract and in accordance to PA labor law.
    The teachers and District administrators must report suspected abuse and fulfill their standard of professional conduct.
    The School acts as the parent during the school day and extracurricular activities.
    The real parents and the School Board must hold the District accountable and liable for such an unnecessary horrendous lack of supervision.
    Step up Board.
    Make the tough decisions to put the”Best interest of the child first.”
    To get the copy of the law suit: go to the clerk’s office at the Federal Court on 6th and Market. Pay a fee. If you are a member of Pacer.com you can find it there.
    Unfortunately, child predators try and find jobs in areas around were children go to school, camp or play. This should be first and foremost in every District’s mind. All employees should receive training or sign off on video modules.
    Wake up Professionals.
    My heartfelt sympathy for this child and family.

    [Reply]

  13. Margaret,
    You are absolutely correct.
    Mandated reporters!
    Trained, professional teachers, experienced in identifying child abuse.
    “Known or SHOULD have Known!”
    Must report!
    In a small tight knit community many knew and many should have reported.
    I think the District should be reviewed, analyzed and watched closely by the Department of Education.
    The District, teachers and school board needs continual education in the area of child predators.

    [Reply]

  14. I am not saying this to belittle the above writers’ well-placed and earnest concerns for student safety but it needs to be said: please take a deep breath and say this word: “allegedly.” Everyone is for safety and vigilance and good policies and behaviors. But it sure seems rash and unfair to call for specific heads based upon a complaint. IIRC, the school district is currently being sued in another case for (deep breath, allegedly) committing a very similar sin.

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  15. Anyone who comes in contact with children is a Mandated Reporter. Even bus drivers are trained in what to do if they suspect abuse. That all of these school employees turned a blind eye is not just neglect it is unlawful. They are all responsible. And the teacher who “double dated”, well, grooming comes to mind.
    Suspicion. That is all that is required to pick up the phone and call Childline. No one expects the school staff to be detectives nor should they be.
    But they should just care enough to make a call. Shameful

    [Reply]

    CHS parent and tax payer Reply:

    You didnt have to be a detective to know what was going on in the school. It was open and well known by people Not only did it not take being a detective to uncover the crime, “teachers” facilitated it.

    And now they make a statement by coming together arm in arm to support each other for more money? What about your students??????

    [Reply]

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