Parents allege sex abuse at Conestoga, seek principal's ouster
The parents of a teenage girl and the parent of a teenage boy who police said were repeatedly sexually assaulted by two aides at Conestoga High School in consecutive school years are calling for the principal to step down. The girl's parents filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the school district.
Alleging that administrators tolerated an environment at Conestoga High School in which their children were sexually assaulted repeatedly by two different aides, the parents of a teenage girl and the parent of a teenage boy have called for the principal to resign.
The girl's parents also filed a federal lawsuit Thursday morning saying the principal and officials in the Tredyffrin/Easttown 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 are asking for at least $75,000 in damages from the school district.
The boy's family is considering filing suit, said attorney Matt Casey of the Ross Feller Casey law firm, who also represents the girl's family and said the resignation was being sought by both.
Kenneth Roos, the district's solicitor, said early Thursday afternoon that while the district had not been served with a lawsuit, the accusations were false.
"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," Roos said. He said the principal did not know about inappropriate conduct between the girl and an aide until several high school officials contacted police.
Christine Marie Towers, a 27-year-old Phoenixville resident, was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in jail in March for sexually assaulting the boy when he was a 16-year-old student she tutored.
The parents' suit was filed two weeks after a former football coach, fired for allegedly failing to supervise players after one said teammates assaulted him, sued the school district.
According to police accounts and the parents' lawsuit, the assaults of the girl began in January, when she was 15 and a 10th grader at Conestoga. They occurred in the school's parking lot, the aide's vehicle and office, and the school's television production studio, where the aide worked, the lawsuit said. The acts included fondling, kissing, and on at least 10 occasions rape, according to the suit.
Police said Conestoga officials alerted them to an inappropriate relationship in April. The lawsuit alleges this was well after officials knew about improper conduct. Arthur E. Phillips, 67, of Tredyffrin, was charged in April and May with statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors and related offenses. He had been an instructional aide at Conestoga since 2006.
"His open and notorious behavior towards plaintiff was known by school administrators, teachers and students, yet Tredyffrin/Easttown and [the principal] did nothing to stop it," the lawsuit says.
According to the suit, Phillips took the girl from the Conestoga campus to buy her meals, take her shopping, and "groom" her during and after the school day. The lawsuit alleges a teacher and her husband went to dinner on a "double date" with the girl and Phillips, and that other teachers knew Phillips was taking the girl off campus during the school day. An aide also referred to the girl as "Art's girlfriend" in front of two teachers, the suit said.
The lawsuit alleges school district administrators did not properly train employees to identify and report sexual abuse of students and did not respond to student reports of sexual abuse. Roos, the district's solicitor, said school employees know they have to report abuse and are trained.
The suit also said district employees failed to review camera footage that showed Phillips and the girl leaving the school, or to intervene when Phillips continually wrote hall passes for the girl to skip classes. Between January and mid-April, she missed about 20 English classes, the lawsuit said.
In a letter to parents at the time of the aide's arrest, Superintendent Richard Gusick and principal Amy Meisinger wrote, "We cannot adequately express our shock and dismay upon learning an adult responsible for the care of our students has been charged with such a deplorable act."
In the prior school year, Towers, an aide and coach, was arrested for her sexual relationship with the student.