Pattye Benson

Community Matters

child abuse

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?

Religious Freedom or Child Abuse . . . You be the judge!

Risking a volatile outburst from some Community Matters readers, there is troubling news from the Philadelphia courts. I have been following this story from January 2009 and the case had its day in court yesterday. Although the verdict was guilty, I am far from satisfied by the sentencing. If you are not aware of this specific case, here is the background.

In January 2009, 2-year old Kent Schaible of the Rhawnhurst section of Philadelphia became sick. His parents, Herbert Schaible, 42 and Catherine Schaible, 41 are members of the First Century Gospel Church of Juniata Park, which teaches healing through prayer. For 10 days, the couple remained in this Northeast home praying over their son, believing their son’s symptoms, including a sore throat, chest congestion, diarrhea and trouble swallowing and sleeping were signs of the flu or of a cold. The parents did not seek medical treatment for their son. Following the fundamental teachings of their church, they believe that the sick can be healed by praying to God, not by turning to doctors or medicine.

Kent died of bacterial pneumonia on January 24, 2009. When the Schaibles discovered that Kent was dead, they called the church’s pastor who came to the house. He joined the parents in prayer and then called a funeral director. The Philadelphia medical examiner ruled the death a homicide but noted that it could have been prevented with basic medical care. Herbert and Catherine Schaible were arrested in April 2009 and charged with involuntary manslaughter and related counts.

The trial began late last year and at one point Herbert read a statement to the jury, which included “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end the devil won” as part of their defense. I supported the Schaible’s conviction in December of involuntary manslaughter but was shocked by yesterday’s sentence. The sentence for the death of their 2-year old son was 10 years probation, as imposed by Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Temin!

Why no prison term for the couple? Temin decided against prison for the couple because they had no prior criminal record and they have seven other children, now ages 1 to 15, and they needed their parents. Temin says that she made it clear that the parents must get the children regular medical exams. Do we really think that is going to happen . . . ? Commenting on the sentence, Herbert’s attorney, Bobby Hoof, commented there is a clear message that “religious freedom is trumped by the safety of children.”

As an aside, Mr. Schaible teaches at the school that is attached to their church, the fundamentalist First Century Gospel Church, of which they are members. Mrs. Schaible’s father is principal of this school. How can the Schaible’s support the doctrines of the church and school and have regular check-up and medical care? The church and school teachings believe that all medical treatment is a sin.

The couple could have received 5-10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and 3 ½ -7 years for endangering the welfare of a child. In handing down the probation sentence, Judge Temin said that if the Schaible’s violate the terms (which means seeking medical care and regular check-ups for their other children they will be sent to jail. What happens if their violation of medical treatment causes another death of a child? How can these people be allowed to retain custody of their children?

When it comes to religious beliefs, I support the rights of an individual. However, I draw the line when a religious belief causes harm or worse, . . . death. Maybe I am going out on a limb on this, but I view The Schaible’s actions as a form of religious child abuse. The fundamental teachings of their church, directs those that seek medical attention are to be shunned . . . so how is that this couple is going to remain members of the church, teach in the school and follow the terms of the sentence in the raising of their seven children? Not possible.

Here is an interesting thought . . . would the proposed school voucher plan work for parents wishing to send their children to the fundamental First Century Gospel Church School? Good possibility that this church school located in Juniata Park could be located close to one of the 144 low-performing public schools and therefore would qualify to receive a student with a voucher. Isn’t that a scary thought?

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