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August 17th, 2017

Pennsylvania High School Sex Abuse Scandal Nears End – Teachers Get Jail, Victims Get Justice

In 2015, two teachers at a high school in Western, Pennsylvania were arrested and charged with sexual abuse of students. Two Pittsburgh area high school teachers, Joseph Ruggieri and Jason Cooper, were arrested and charged with grooming two female students and ultimately engaging in sexual conduct with them. Both pled guilty to various charges last Spring and were sentenced to prison and probation. Read more about the Pittsburgh, PA high school sex abuse scandal.

In April 2016, Joseph Ruggieri pled guilty to witness intimidation, institutional sex abuse and corruption of minors. He received a 2-5 year prison sentence with 5 years of probation.

In March 2016, Jason Cooper pled guilty to witness intimidation, institutional sex abuse and corruption of minors. He received a sentence of 6-12 months in jail with 5 years probation on the witness intimidation and corruption of minors charges. He also received a 1-2 year prison sentence with 5 years of probation on the institutional sex abuse charge. Cooper was also convicted of furnishing liquor to minors, although no sentence was imposed.

Since the conclusion of the two criminal cases, the two victims filed civil lawsuits against the school district, alleging violation of constitutional rights under federal law. The cases are expected to settle. Get more info about federal constitutional law claims in school sex abuse cases.

A grand jury investigated the allegations of sex abuse at the school and issued a report in May 2016. That report cast a great deal of blame on the administration:

“[We] uncovered systematic failures to protect students on the part of Plum Senior High School staff and school resource officer, leaving those students vulnerable to abuse by the very persons who are duty bound to protect them. We attribute these failures in large part to an academic culture that encouraged the protection of friends and colleagues over students, insularity, avoidance of personal responsibility in favor of shifting the onus onto others without follow up, and turning a blind eye to obvious signs of teacher misconduct.”

The grand jury also found that the school essentially enabled teachers by:

1. failing to take appropriate action against at least one teacher for years before criminal action commenced,

2. failing to document administration action that took place,

3. ignoring their obligations as mandatory reporters under Pennsylvania law,

4. failing to contact law enforcement, and

5. conducting internal investigations that had the potential to interfere with actual investigation by law enforcement.

For more info, visit the School & Teacher Sex Abuse Victims’ Law Library.