Pattye Benson

Community Matters

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


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.

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  1. i believe when this first broke I said there may be more to this story than first reported.
    Maybe Hogan has some ‘splaining” to do?
    based on the above reporting, it seems the father and troubled son are playing a dangerous game…. so what is the TRUTH?

  2. True, but the team still participated in activities referred to as “No Gay Thursday” – let’s not forget that. Pretty low behavior…

  3. The alleged hazing incident has provided all students, residents and families, an excellent opportunity to learn about hazing, bullying and the law. The best practice now is to move forward and follow hazing laws at any level.

    Conestoga and TE should take the high road and require more specific evidence of residence as as well as coach supervision in all locker room, bus and practice situations to ensure safety for all students and for all sports. It is easy to blame a particular situation. This is about moving forward with hope, love and forgiveness … to learn to accept and include all persons whether troubled, LGBT-Q, or any other group.

    This situation is a cry for help. Let’s step up and help others in a positive AND KIND manner. Move on … help the next kid. There is hope.

    Punishment, jail time, arrest records and the like are not the answer for such young people. Intervention, mental, behavioral and emotional support/supervision is answer. Turn to your Board specialist Reverend Scott Dorsey for guidance and hope. He is an expert.

  4. pretty low yes, but sticks and stones….

    who knows if the truth will ever get out.. but those kids know what went on and I have some distrust for the dad and kid, already having done some shady things with the sexting… bad news..

  5. I agree with Liz.

    Arrest records and jail time are not the answer for young people. Education is the answer.

    Charging 11 to 15 year olds with a crime is ill suited to addressing adolescent behaviors. Children need guidance from there parents for their stupid behavior, not arrest records and jail time.

    Sexting goes on in every middle school in the country. Arresting kids for doing what kids do and have done for all time will not change that, and will make it worse. Look what’s happened here. What a mess!

    Rich Gusick, Supt. of School TESD said in November 2015

    “I firmly believe that all children should be educated to act respectfully online and face-to-face,” Gusick said. “I am deeply concerned whenever students make choices that bring harm to themselves or others. I trust that the district staff and parents will continue to work cooperatively to support our students.”

    Rich is right. Education is the answer.

    Students not living in the District and Parents not paying taxes in the District should not be eligible for enrollment in the School System. Clearly, parents do it because they want great educations for their kids but can’t afford it and justify cutting corners because it’s in the best interests of their child.

    I agree with Liz on this too. Require proof of residency at the beginning of each school year. Investigate when something doesn’t make sense. Send warning letters and give a reasonable amount of time for offenders to make alternative arrangements. I’m not sure sending threatening letters, in a deliberate and hostile manner demanding payment in a short amount of time or face criminal prosecution to parents you know can’t make payment is a good idea. Frightened people, especially parents, can be vicious.

    When my kids were in grade school, I had to submit a utility bill with my name and address on it for proof of residency. I didn’t mind and understood that to live here and enjoy the rewards of residency , payment is required. Many residents sacrifice alot to live here so it’s important that everyone pay their fair share.

    The bottom line:

    Education is the Answer

  6. Did Hogan know about the residency issue? Would he have gone forward had he known?

    Does the spoke publish in the summer?

    Do former co editor in chiefs write articles for the Spoke after thy have graduated from High School?

    Who is behind this article? Why?

  7. your more questions is sort of like blaming the Russians for the indescretions of the DNC..

    We probably here on the board know very little of what is going on behind the scenes, although what should be open to the public indeed should be..

    “Who is behind the article”… Im more interested in whether or not the article is truthful. As time passes, the truth will come out….
    Kids do stupid things all the time…

    Im reminded of the Duke lacrosse fiasco…. lets see how this plays out..sunshine is the best disinfectant , no?

  8. Wait a minute,former TE resident. No Gay Thursdays. We’re you there for that?
    After this article, you do not even know what is true.It could be. It could not.
    From this article .I do not know what is true.

    You may say everybody knew. I worked there. I could go inand say so and so is pregnant
    And it is a teachers baby. By the end of the day the whole school will be buzzing. And by the end of the day she is having triplets. And somehow my false statement would become fact. It is a high school with teenagers who love to text and talk.
    In other words, right now, this is a mess, and even no gay Thursdays could be false. We do not know.

    1. We know that No Gay Thursday is true. I was/am there. It is true.

      I agree that the father felt trapped. I am surprised, disappointed and saddened by Mark’s letter.

      Mark is the Director of the newly created position Director of Accountability. This is what he does with it? Sad.

      We spend $6M on a Maintenance Building, we spend $7M to $10M on the purchase renovation and rehab of District offices and a building that houses IT equipment. We grant raises and bonuses that add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in increases alone, we cut TENIG pay by $3M, we outsource valuable aides and paras, and after all that:

      We threaten criminal prosecution for theft of educational services amounting to $13,000 on a parent and his child?

      Where is the voice of reason?

      1. I know all the details of the incident. The father commited (another) crime. That’s why he had to pay back the school.
        He then proceeded to commit another crime – serious and false allegations against 3 innocent boys.
        The father should be in jail!

        1. vague, unclear and unsubstantiated accusations do not take away from the facts of this case. I question your authenticity and motivations.

  9. Confronted with the threat of the full force of the law crashing down on him, and knowing he couldn’t control the dilemma or resolve it or opt out of it, the father felt trapped.

  10. Dad lied about residency. He took $13K in education funds that did not belong to him. When confronted, he pointed the finger at three minors, besmirched the school reputation, brought stress to an entire community, and got a much-loved coach fired. Here is a thought Dad – admit what you did and negotiate a payment plan with the district?
    And then there is his kid, who screwed with the mental and emotional health of a teenage girl, ruined her reputation, and more. What did he learn here? He learned how to lie and blame others!
    I suspect that there were kids behaving badly in the locker room and that they picked on the kid. I suspect some hazing went on, which is obviously not okay. But did it go on to the extent outlined by the DA and communicated in national news? I guess we will never know.

  11. why was the father “trapped”? he was caught doing something illegal.. then he retaliated by creating a terrible story.. perhaps…. lets see…this father just should have paid the bill and left for his home district…. who else is here “illegally”…. theres that word again..

  12. there was no talk of a payment plan in the letter

    pay in 30 days or face prosecution.

    evidence makes this unimportant anyway.

    Does the D.A. have strong evidence to convict 3 beloved boys in a community of a horrific crime?

  13. I read an article in the Daily Local News yesterday about the incident and in it read that one of the fathers of the accused boys died from a heart attack a few weeks ago(it said very likely due to the stress from his son being accused). I know that it would be hard to prove but I wonder if the accusations turn out to be false will some kind of charge be able to be filed against the alleged victim and his father? Just an awful tragedy all around…

  14. If D.A Hogan didn’t think he had evidence to get a conviction, he wouldn’t have charged the boys, so no if the boys are found not guilty, no charges can be filed against the accuser and his father.

  15. your faith in the DA’a office is impressive.. I know a few DA’s that are well… thats not to say Hogan is like Nifong nor Mosby, but we do rush to judgment.. even the best of them in a politically charged universe that we live in..

  16. Another twist:
    Judge rules alleged hazing victim was legal resident of Tredyffrin/Easttown School District
    Most people will not be familiar with the McKinney-Vento Act that defines homelessness and the implications for education. If I understand the situation correctly, the student was living with his great-grandmother in Devon; not with either his father or mother. If he was really living with his great-grandmother (sleeping, eating, having his clothes there, doing homework,etc) then this was his residence and was entitled to attend TE schools. If the great-grandmother kicks him out and he is living in transitional shelter (mom’s house in Chester) then he meets the definition of “homeless” and is entitled to continue attending TE schools until he finds a permanent residence.

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