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Timing is Everything: Conestoga High School reporters on alleged sodomy charges & victim’s residency dispute

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In today’s Spoke, Conestoga High School’s newspaper is the article, “Sodomy allegation followed victim’s residency dispute with TESD” by Andy Backstrom, former Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015-16) and Caleigh Sturgeon, Manager Web Editor. Backstrom is a 2016 graduate of CHS and will be attending Boston College in the fall and Sturgeon is a CHS senior.

Backstrom and Sturgeon review the facts surrounding the hazing investigation and alleged sodomy of a freshman football player by three senior varsity football players. The alleged victim was previously involved in a middle school sexting incident, but reportedly there was no connection. One development has centered on whether the victim is a “legal” resident of the T/E School District or was he living in Delaware County.

There has been no update from the District Attorney’s office regarding the case against the three Conestoga football players. Because the accused are juveniles (or where at the time of the alleged crime), the information is protected from the public. Since the case does not appear to have advanced in the court system, where does that leave these three former Conestoga football players?

After reading Backstrom and Sturgeon article below, the timing and connection between the alleged victim’s sexting incident, residency questions and claims of sodomy certainly make the situation suspicious. What really did happen? Aside from the criminal case and whether he was actually a ‘victim’, the freshman football player was also a pawn in his father’s hand.

Read the article — what do you think?

Sodomy allegation followed victim’s residency dispute with TESD

By Andy Backstrom, Former Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015-16), and Caleigh Sturgeon, Managing Web Editor

The Spoke collected the information included in the story below from public records searched by The Spoke at the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, articles published elsewhere and statements issued by Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan.

While there appears to be no news about the sodomy charges against the three varsity football players at Conestoga High School filed in March, or the hazing investigation, more facts are available than have been widely reported. There is no official conclusion in the case, but documents recorded in another case raised questions, concerning the cloud formed over the Conestoga community.

Many months before the commencement of the hazing investigation, the Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) held an expulsion hearing for Conestoga’s lone freshman varsity football player on Nov. 10, 2015. The previous week (Nov. 3), Tredyffrin Easttown Police announced charges against three students in TESD for “cyber bullying” teenage girls, as the students were found sharing sexually explicit images in the spring of 2015. The freshman was among the students charged.

Yet, the freshman was not expelled.

Instead, TESD made a deal to pay for him to attend Buxmont Academy, a private school for troubled youth that charges almost twice the cost of attending Conestoga. A condition of the deal was that the student reside in the district. The student and his father agreed. But, almost immediately, TESD acted on suspicions that the freshman actually lived in Delaware County.

Based on returned mail from the student’s given home address, TESD hired private investigator Michael J. Leyden, who conducted surveillance of the student during the last three months of 2015. On Jan. 12, 2016 TESD wrote both the student and his father that the investigation determined that they had not been residents of the school district since March 5, 2015.

On Jan. 28, after a hearing, a TESD hearing officer, A. Kyle Berman, found that the student was not a district resident and that the father had made false statements about the student’s residence.

“The testimony of Parent is not at all credible relating in any way to the place that he and Student reside,” Berman wrote.

TESD demanded that the father reimburse the district both for the days the student attended Conestoga as a non-resident and the days he attended Buxmont as an alternative to expulsion.  The assessment includes March 5, 2015 – Nov. 13, 2015, the student’s last day at Conestoga, at the rate of $70.12 per day, as well as Nov. 16, 2015 – Jan. 22, 2016, when TESD stopped paying for student’s alternative tuition, due to violation of a “Waiver of Expulsion” agreement, at a rate of $136.02 per day. TESD presented the father with a bill for $13,442.92.

In addition, Director of Assessment and Accountability, Mark Cataldi, threatened that failure to pay the balance within 30 days would result in criminal investigation.

“The District will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, including fines and imprisonment for theft of educational services from the District and providing false information to the District regarding your residency,” Cataldi wrote.

Within the next week, by Feb. 5, the father reported to TESD that his son was sodomized by three varsity football seniors back on October 15, 2015 with a broomstick. TESD notified the District Attorney, prompting the hazing investigation at Conestoga.

The father’s report places the hazing incident less than a month both before the student was charged for his role in the “sexting scandal” and his expulsion hearing.

On February 17, the father and the student sued TESD to halt the district’s efforts to collect the $13,442.92. A Chester County Judge was due to hear their case on March 4, but, on March 1, TESD agreed to postpone the hearing and suspend its collection campaign temporarily. Three days later (March 4), Hogan made national news announcing sodomy charges based on the account of the student and his father.

Hogan told The Philadelphia Inquirer that, “no evidence suggested” that the hazing case is connected to the earlier sexting case but did not dispute that the victim in one was the accused in the other.

Hogan did not respond to The Spoke’s request for comment on today’s story.

A final court decision on the freshman’s residence and the debt to TESD is expected this summer. However, there is no telling when the three, now, former seniors, who graduated from Conestoga on June 7, will learn their fate. A juvenile matter, their case is not public unless Hogan decides to announce its outcome.

Until May of this year, Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law was limited to colleges and university.  New legislation was approved by PA Gov. Wlf in May that expanded the state’s anti-hazing law to include public and private middle and high schools, making it a third-degree misdemeanor when a student is forced to take part in abuse or humiliating conduct for initiation into a team or group. Schools are required to post anti-hazing policies online and provide copies to all athletic coaches.

Does Your Teenager Text While Driving – Must Read Article by Conestoga Student Reporter

In the lastest edition of Conestoga High School’s The Spoke, I read a very scary article by student reporter Brittany Roker on text-messaging while driving.  Statistically, I’m fairly sure that teenage drivers have the highest percentage of traffic accidents.  Taking that in to consideration, can you imagine that 74% of the Conestoga High School interviewed admit that they always or occasionally text-message while they are behind the wheel! 

Parents, please talk to your children about this issue . . . their safety (and ours) is at risk.  Thank you Brittany for enlightening many of us on this topic.

CHS The Spoke
12 January 2010 Issue

By Brittany Roker, Staff Reporter

      Braking the habit: students text behind the wheel

That familiar sound and the constant vibrations can signal disaster for drivers. Although senior Holly Mainiero comes to a stop at a traffic light before feverishly snatching her cell phone, she does not put the brakes on texting. Mainiero is not alone in her habits.

According to a recent Spoke survey, 91 percent of licensed seniors think that texting behind the wheel is unsafe, yet 74 percent report that they always or occasionally text while driving. While only 19 percent of the seniors surveyed said that they know someone who has been in an accident due to texting on the roads, Eric Bolton, a public affairs officer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that new research conducted by the organization has shown that collisions frequently happen because of inattentive driving. “It was amazing to see people doing all kinds of distracting tasks while they were driving and what was happening—a lot of near misses and crashes, people driving up on sidewalks,” Bolton said.

This study, conducted about three years ago, occurred when the NHTSA partnered with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Bolton said. The organizations found that, for every six seconds of drive time, a driver who sends or receives a text message has his eyes off of the road for 4.6 of the six seconds. Research by the NHTSA is one of many sources of information provided by the government about cell phone usage in the driver’s seat. According to the United States Department of Transportation, nearly 6,000 U.S. citizens died last year because they used a cellular device while driving. Statistics such as these influenced 19 states to ban texting while driving. Pennsylvania is one of the 31 remaining states that has not already made texting while driving illegal. Although a statewide ban is currently nonexistent, several cities, including Philadelphia, have succeeded in making the act illegal.

On Dec. 1, Philadelphia police began enforcing a ban on cell phone usage while driving. The ban prohibits drivers from talking or texting on mobile phones in the city, although drivers can use hands-free devices instead. A violation carries a $75 fine that can increase to as much as $300 if it is not paid.

A statewide ban on texting while driving was sent to the House on Nov. 10. In addition to prohibiting texting while driving, the bill also forbids 16 to 18-year-old drivers from using cell phones in any way while driving. If the bill, officially titled House Bill 2070, is passed, violators will have to pay a fine ranging from $50 to $100. Currently, the bill is being reviewed by committees in the House and will eventually be voted on by state representatives. If accepted by the House, the bill will go to the state Senate and then to Gov. Ed Rendell for approval.

Eric Bolton, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that the administration is supportive of states cracking down on the dangerous habit. “I think that the administration would like to see the states take a strong stance on all kinds of distracted driving, including texting while driving,” Bolton said. Bolton said that the administration, which conducts research about vehicle safety and reports its results to the public, found that texting while driving causes cognitive impairment because the act uses the driver’s mind, taking his attention off of the road.

Conestoga highway safety teacher Michael Cangi finds the laws that state representatives are considering impractical. He said that he believes the connection between Americans and their cell phones is too strong for a law regulating driver behavior to be passed. “The phone is connected to them as much as your glasses are to your face. You simply can’t go without them,” Cangi said. Cangi said that the solution to teen texting while driving is through education. He said he thinks that law enforcement officers and educators must inform young drivers so that they may better understand the risks and make smarter choices.

Junior Callie Clifton said that she never texts while she drives. She said that families are the key to stopping teens from texting behind the wheel. “I believe that, in order to prevent texting while driving, parents need to raise their kids in an environment where it is not encouraged,” Clifton said. “Parents should teach their kids about the dangers of texting while driving and explain to them that texting can wait until you get out of the car.” Clifton may be a young driver, but her opinions are similar to those of adult lawmakers and researchers. She said she thinks that many of her peers are unaware of the consequences of their actions. “I think the problem with today’s teens is that they think they’re too good at texting and at driving, so they assume nothing bad will happen if they mix the two,” Clifton said. “I think teens don’t realize how easy it is to look away from the road for one second and lose control of their car.”

Brittany Roker can be reached at broker@stoganews.com. Printed originally on p. 3 of The Spoke’s Jan. 12, 2010 issue.

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