Do you recall the 2017 federal lawsuit filed against T/E School District and Dr. Amy Meisinger, principal of Conestoga High School?
The federal lawsuit was filed by parents on behalf of their daughter, a 15-year old female student. The lawsuit alleged that administrators and teachers at the high school created and tolerated a culture that emboldened Art Phillips, a 67-year old instructional aide, to repeatedly sexually abuse their daughter. In the lawsuit, fourteen District administrators, teachers and aides were named, citing that they were aware of the inappropriate relationship with the student and alleges that they did nothing. (Click here to read lawsuit).
Phillips caught the attention of police when he crashed his car in what was said to be a suicide attempt. He left a note in the vehicle that read, “I was just a guy trying to help a kid and the boundaries just got gray.”
Former 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. According to the police investigation, the alleged victim was sexually assaulted by Phillips on more than 10 occasions from January until April of 2017. The incidents occurred in various areas in Tredyffrin Township, including in Phillips’ office at Conestoga High School.
In that same year, Phillips was found guilty of the charges and sentenced to 10-20 years for his criminal action. As a footnote, Phillips committed suicide in his Graterford prison cell a few months into serving his sentence. In 2019, Phillips widow, Phyllis Phillips sued the correctional institution, Corizon Health Inc., MHM Correctional Services Inc. and various doctors claiming that her late husband did not receive proper treatment in prison, which caused him to hang himself. No further update on Mrs. Phillips case.
The girl’s parents filed a federal lawsuit against the District saying that the Conestoga High School principal and officials in the school district were aware of “a parade of improper conduct” by a male aide and created an environment that allowed the assaults to occur. They were seeking at least $75,000 in damages from the District.
At the time of the lawsuit filing, Ken Roos, the District’s solicitor claimed that the accusations were false. He stated, “We have yet to see any evidence anybody knew of a sexual relationship between the student and this former aide, nor have we been advised of any by the police.” In response to the lawsuit, the District filed a 28-page “motion to dismiss” on August 14, 2017.
Fast forward three plus years and we have learned that the 2017 federal lawsuit against Tredyffrin Easttown School District and Amy Meisinger was not dismissed (as previously requested by the District).
A Memorandum by U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Jan DuBois (filed on October 23, 2020) allows that the lawsuit against the T/E School District can proceed. We also learned from the Memorandum that the plaintiff names (listed as A.B. and C.B.) in the lawsuit has changed. The parents (A.B. and C.B.) originally filed the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of their daughter, who was 15 years old and a minor at the time. Now 18 years old, the former TESD student is the named plaintiff (D.B.) in the lawsuit against the school district. (Click here to read Memorandum.)
In his ruling, Judge DuBois denied the District’s request for summary judgment on three out of four counts in the lawsuit, including Title IX claims.
The plaintiff, D.B. alleges that the District was liable for the sexual assaults by Art Phillips and cites inadequate training by staff. D.B. claims that the school should have been on notice because of previous instances of misconduct committed by former staff and several specific examples are cited in the lawsuit.
Although the plaintiff argues the District staff was not properly trained in spotting staff misconduct, the attorney for the school district argued that its policies were adequate. However, according to the lawsuit, “Prior to February 27, 2017, TESD did not have a written policy that specifically addressed “precursor misconduct.” The District policy “was adopted on February 27, 2017, while Phillips’s misconduct with D.B. was ongoing.”
In his opinion, Judge Dubois states, “A reasonable jury could find that, in light of the previous incidents of sexual harassment at CHS that occurred under the same policies, the preexisting policies and training were inadequate such that other incidents were like to occur.”
The federal lawsuit against the Tredyffrin Easttown School District now heads to a jury trial.
In the words of John Lewis, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” According to the lawsuit, at least 14 District administrators, teachers and staff knew something was going on between Art Phillips and the 15-year old student — I just do not understand why someone didn’t say something.