Justice: Former TE School District Aide Receives 10-20 Years for Sexual Abuse of 15-Year Old Conestoga High School Student – Where Do We Go From Here?

It seems that in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding movie producer Harvey Weinstein, allegations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful men are flying left and right.

Actors, politicians, lawmakers, newscasters – each day brings new complaints alleging “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace”. From Hollywood to the White House, prominent men are accused of using their status to take advantage of women in unconscionable ways.

The men accused of sexual misconduct with adult women are very, very wrong. Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with children. This is not the same thing. They are not comparable. When an adult in power – whether a teacher, clergy member, coach, or in the local TE School District case an instructional aide —initiates sexual contact with a minor child, the incident is child sexual abuse, period.

Sixty-seven year old Arthur Phillips, a former instructional aide in Conestoga High School’s television production studio, sexually abused his 15 year old female victim for months. According to the police investigation, the alleged victim said that Phillips sexually assaulted her from January until April of this year on more than 10 occasions in various areas in Tredyffrin, despite saying no. Investigators alleged that Phillips made the student have sex with him. Police said that Phillips would grope, touch and kiss the student in his office at the high school. The investigation revealed that Phillips and the victim talked about “sexual issues” via text messages and at least once, he sent her a picture of his genitals.

In April, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan criminally charged Phillips with 100 counts including statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and endangering the welfare of a child, among other related charges.

In June, a Federal lawsuit was filed against the TE School District by the parents of the victim, seeking at least $75K in damages and calling for the resignation of Conestoga’s Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger. The lawsuit claims that the District was aware of the improper conduct of Phillips and “created an environment that allowed the assaults to occur”.

According to the lawsuit, a Visual and Performing Arts teacher at the high school was aware of the ‘relationship’ between Phillips and his 15-year student and that with her husband, “double-dated” for dinner to celebrate the victim’s birthday.  The lawsuit contains the names of 14 District administrators, teachers and aides who were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship but took a “blind eye” and failed to take steps to investigate or halt the conduct. The Performing Arts teacher lost her job in the District last month.

We learned from Caroline O’Halloran’s Savvy Mainline that the District has responded to the lawsuit against it and Principal Meisinger on August 14 with a 28-page “motion to dismiss”.  The court has yet to rule.

Last week Phillips had his day of reckoning before Chester County Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick Carmody.  As a former Chester County Assistant DA, Carmody has handled thousands of cases from white crime to homicide and we now know he has no tolerance for child sex offenders. We learned from the Daily Times, that Phillips pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, institutional sexual assault, and corruption of minors and in a plea agreement was given a sentence of 10-20 years in state prison.  Phillips will also be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

According to the Daily Times article, Judge Carmody was particularly incensed that Phillips apologized to his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and to his friends but not to his victim.

The judge told Phillips, dressed in a plaid shirt and a black jacket and speaking in a nervous whisper,  that the only reason that he was accepting the proposed plea agreement and sentence offered by the prosecution and defense was that its specifics amounted to a near life term for the 67-year-old. If not for Phillips’ age, he would reject the agreement as too lenient, he said.

“You may never leave jail, you understand that?” Carmody asked. “You’re going to be sitting in jail for at least the next 10 years.”

As the accusations of sexual harassment and assault fill the national news daily, there is much talk of “fixing the problem”.  What about the outstanding federal lawsuit against the TE School District and Principal Meisinger.  Having read the lawsuit filed by the parents of the Conestoga student, it certainly appears to provide substantial evidence. I do not claim to be an attorney but it seems to me that the Phillips guilty verdict will only strengthen the case against the school district and the principal.

So the question is, where do we go from here? Although it remains to be seen how Phillips’ guilty verdict will impact the federal lawsuit,  shouldn’t the larger issue be, has the school district “fixed the problem”? Are there policies now in place to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again? Are our children safe?

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29 Comments

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  1. “it certainly appears to provide substantial evidence.” No, it provides zero evidence. It provides allegations.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    The Judge thought that there was sufficient evidence for 10-20 years.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that allegations only turn into evidence once they are accepted by the court. Since there was no criminal trial, just a guilty plea, all the allegations in the civil complaint are just that – allegations. But those allegations, most likely, are well supported by police interviews and investigations conducted as part of the Phillips criminal conviction. Thus, those allegations will quickly turn into evidence if the civil trial proceeds.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Thanks Keith — that’s how it looks to me (as another non-attorney).

  2. Nothing will change until people reporting abuse are listened to and something meaningful is done about accusations. Students reporting are told to mind their own business and treated in ways that teach them to keep silent in the future so they don’t suffer emotional and psychological mistreatment from staff. There is no place to report. It’s a black hole, complaints falling on deaf ears. This continues to this day and will not stop.

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  3. Great update Pattye.
    The criminal case will help the civil case.
    I did hear employees were sent a policy to not use District email to contact students, not be texting, sexting or grooming minors to have sex with teachers.

    One point must be reinforced. The predator DID groom the minor. Phillips did threaten her that no one would believe her. He said the Principal would not believe her (civil case). She as a minor could not legally give consent to intercourse. The victim in this case was more than abused. She suffered violence and threats against her and her family.

    The District should send a public notice of all policy updates.

    I am sure Phillips had other criminal acts with other minors over the 11 years. Pedophiles don’t just become criminals over night.

    I have heard about other teachers in 2006-7 that dated minors. A music teacher was “told on by students” and a AP history teacher was described as ”creepy” then married his student and moved to England.

    Empower students to speak up!

    The school needs to clean up its act and really protect minors from predators.

    [Reply]

    Agree Reply:

    “The criminal case will help the civil case.” Liz, That’s how I read it, I agree with you.

    [Reply]

  4. Now they must make people feel comfortable taking that first crucial step in coming forward to report bad behavior. It’s going to take a lot of work for people to trust that their reporting will be investigated and that the information won’t come back on them in a negative way.

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  5. Does a judge have the power to rule that a Principal be fired? Wouldn’t that be a Board decision?

    Is the 28 page “motion to dismiss” filed by the District available to the public? What is in a 28 page motion that could convince a judge to dismiss this case?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Interesting question. The Federal lawsuit is against the District and the Principal and (if it is not dismissed and if it is not settled out-of-court) and the civil case goes to trial, a judge rules in the case. At that point, wouldn’t the judge’s ruling have more authority than the school board? Although I have not seen the District’s “motion to dismiss” filing, Caroline O’Halloran (Savvy Main Line) may have or at a minimum knew all about it.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    Yes, the decision to fire a principal is a board decision and subject to state law. A federal judge has no power to hire or fire any employee.

    [Reply]

  6. Given its a Board decision, why does the case demand the Principal be fired?

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    I can find no mention in the complaint that the “Principal be fired”. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    The lead attorney representing the victim’s parents, Matt Casey of Ross Feller & Casey, http://www.rossfellercasey.com has repeatedly stated that his clients are calling for the resignation of the CHS principal. In a press release from the firm: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/federal-lawsuit-filed-in-conestoga-high-school-student-sexual-assault-case-300471324.html

    From the New York Post: https://nypost.com/2017/06/09/parents-say-high-school-turned-blind-eye-to-sex-abuse-scandals/

    In looking at Matt Casey’s profile — https://www.rossfellercasey.com/attorney-profiles/matt-casey/ – is a list of impressive mega-million dollar settlements for his clients — $87 million in 2016 alone! Ross Feller Casey won $60 million for 4 of the Sandusky Penn State sexual assault victims.

    [Reply]

    Keith Knauss Reply:

    OK. My understanding is that the court case has no mention of dismissing the principal (as a Federal judge has no power to fire a school employee). There is nothing preventing the parents from expressing their opinion that the principal should be fired, but it’s merely an opinion that has no legal weight.

    Pattye Reply:

    OK, I understand your point.

    Questions Reply:

    OK that’s what I thought. The parents are doing it for dramatic effect purposes. And to reinforce the point that Administrators/teachers created and tolerated an environment where sexual assault thrived.

  7. Who do you think genius? Taxpayers.

    TE is the only school district that gives teachers big raises too at taxpayer expense after allegations against them like this.

    [Reply]

    Will o Reply:

    I guess you missed the raises given to administrators especially that sweet golden parachute for Waters.

    [Reply]

  8. Nothing, they’re doing nothing to keep our kids safe. If only they cared as much about our kids as they do getting raises. It made me sick when I saw all the teachers arm in arm in standing in front of the school to get raises for themselves. Do you think just one of them could have stood up for the abused kids? My kids told me all the teachers wore the same t-shirts to school in support of the union getting them raises. It’s so shameful they fight so hard for their own benefit but not the basic safety of the students that work and achieve so teachers and Administrators can take credit for their accomplishments and use them for their own gain.

    [Reply]

  9. Policies have been written and strict rules are now in place…..for students.

    The problem is people don’t read policy and they don’t follow rules, they follow culture. There is a casual acceptance for this kind of behavior because it goes unchecked and is accepted at the highest level. There are no consequences. Employees are protected and shielded from responsibility. It’s is a self sustaining force because parents, students, whistle blowers are afraid to speak for fear of punishment. They feel powerless so they do nothing and become part of the problem that only grows bigger as evidenced by the events and lawsuits that keep coming.

    [Reply]

  10. Pattye, do you know anything about the arrest of a TE employee for sex-related activity on school grounds?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    Yes, I have some information. According to the Chester County court records, the incident occurred on Nov. 21. Tredyffrin Police arrested David Walker and charged him with ‘indecent exposure’ and ‘open lewdness’. According to the court documents, Walker’s preliminary arraignment was scheduled for Nov. 22 in front of Magisterial Judge Tom Tartaglio. The preliminary hearing was scheduled for Nov. 29 but was continued to Jan. 3 with Judge Targalio.

    I had heard the incident occurred in a car, on school property and that other people were involved. If true, those details are not contained in the court documents. I reached out to Tredyffrin Twp Police Supt Beaty but was told that he would not comment before the preliminary hearing. The Tredyffrin Township Police Dept. blotter was updated yesterday but there was no mention made of this arrest although the court record indicates that the arresting officer was with Tredyffrin Twp police.

    What I do know is that Walker is from Philadelphia and is (was??) employed by the TE School District in its IT Department (which is in the building across the street from TE Middle School.) When I checked Walker’s name is in the online staff directory and that Business Manager Art McDonnell is the administrator of the IT Department.

    Looks like the day that Walker was arrested (11/21) is the same day that former District aide Art Phillips received 10-20 year in the criminal case of sex with the 15-year old Conestoga student. When is this going to stop?

    [Reply]

  11. This news is unsettling and hard to understand to say the least.

    Employers hire people who resonate with their values, attitudes and character.

    This will stop when leadership changes.

    [Reply]

  12. I just read about the Mandatory Reporters law
    http://www.pa-fsa.org/Mandated-Reporters/Understanding-Mandated-Reporting/Frequently-Asked-Questions

    It looks like the 14 District administrators, teachers and aides who were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship are covered by the mandatory reporting requirements.

    The penalty for not reporting:
    “Willful failure to report suspected abuse is a serious crime. The first willful failure is considered a second-degree misdemeanor; if the child is found to be abused upon investigation, the willful failure to report is considered a first degree felony (or higher, depending on the situation). ”

    Have those personnel been charged? Why or why not. Perhaps it has to wait until the wheels of justice turn to determine how to charge them

    [Reply]

    Pattye Reply:

    The T/E Visual and Performing Arts teacher at Conestoga who was aware of the ‘relationship’ between Phillips and the 15-year old student was dismissed this fall. She is the one (with her husband) who double dated for dinner with Phillips and the student (to celebrate the student’s birthday). To my knowledge, the other administrators/teachers/aides named in the lawsuit remain employees of the District.

    [Reply]

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