Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Criminal charges expected in Coatesville schools probe

The Chester County District Attorney's Office will release the findings of a grand jury's more than yearlong investigation into the Coatesville Area School District this morning.

The Chester County District Attorney's Office will release the findings of a grand jury's more than yearlong investigation into the Coatesville Area School District this morning.

The office has scheduled a news conference at 10:30 a.m. at the county's Justice Center and criminal charges are expected to be announced.

The release of the grand jury report marks a major milestone in the saga of a school district trying to move on from the national and local firestorm it attracted when school officials discovered the superintendent and high school athletic director were exchanging racist and sexist text messages about students and staff on district-issued cell phones.

After the pair resigned in summer 2013 and school district officials publicly revealed the texts - peppered with racial epithets and other disparaging comments - the District Attorney's Office revealed detectives had been investigating financial mismanagement in the school district, including possible overbilling by its solicitor at the time, for months.

Residents of the school district held several marches and protests after the school board allowed former Superintendent Richard Como and former Athletic Director Jim Donato to resign in September 2013 instead of firing them. School board members said they were protecting the district from potential lawsuits.

Federal and state agencies are still monitoring the school district's relationship with the community.

This summer, the District Attorney's Office issued a subpoena to get the results of the internal investigation the school district started in the wake of the texting scandal. District Attorney Thomas Hogan said the internal report would help with his office's investigation. The school district has not publicly released its taxpayer-funded internal report.

In October 2013, Hogan accused former solicitor James Ellison and some members of the school board of trying to intimidate witnesses, refusing to hand over documents, and otherwise trying to obstruct his office's investigation. Former school board president Neil Campbell, who resigned last month because he said he no longer had time to devote to both his job and the school district, disputed the claims.

Cathy Taschner, who became the school district's new superintendent this summer and who many in the district regard as a welcome change, has been changing how the school district operates based on direction from the District Attorney's Office, the U.S. Department of Justice, the state's civil rights commission, the state chapter of the NAACP, and school district residents.

After the district hired her, Taschner promised residents she would "turn a new page in Coatesville's history."

Last month, the school district suspended two employees - Angelo Romaniello, the assistant superintendent who had served as one of the district's interim superintendents, and Matthew Como, a custodial supervisor and son of the former superintendent. District officials did not give a reason for the suspensions, but in a letter to parents, Taschner said the employees were "being given an opportunity to respond to allegations, as required by due process of law."

School district employees also turned over their district-issued cell phones to the Chester County Intermediate Unit for a spot inspection of their text messages last month. Taschner has said these checks will happen periodically to try to prevent inappropriate behavior.

The district hired a new solicitor in October. In November, the school board voted to sever all ties with its former solicitor, Ellison. This came after the school board voted to keep its embattled former solicitor last December.

Since the resignations last year of the former superintendent and high school athletic director, an election and several resignations for stated personal reasons have brought five new members to the nine-member school board.

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond