A permissive culture at a suburban New Jersey high school allowed three teachers to engage in sexual affairs with students, in violation of school policy and the law, and two administrators failed to take action on the relationships, prosecutors allege.
In documents released Thursday, Camden County prosecutor Warren Faulk announced the charges against the teachers, but also singled out the two administrators who failed to act when they were told of the sexual liaisons and of explicit text messages. All of the adults have been suspended by the school district and each faces five years in prison if convicted of the charges.
“It’s obvious there existed a culture at Triton High School whereby teachers thought they could get away with improper relationships with their students and administrators turned a blind eye,” Faulk said at a news conference. “The improper relationships between the teachers and students were fostered through social media as well as socializing in person outside the school. Indeed we uncovered evidence of sexually explicit text messages during instructional periods.”
The teachers are all males in their late 20s or early 30s, accused of forming relationships with female students at Triton Regional High School in Rennemead, N.J., last year.
According to the prosecutor’s office, math teacher Dan Michielli, 27, of Blackwood, had intercourse with a student multiple times during the school year. He is charged with official misconduct, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal sexual conduct.
Gym teacher and boys’ soccer coach Nick Martinelli, 28, of Cherry Hill, is charged with official misconduct involving an 18-year-old. Prosecutors say he touched and kissed the girl when she was a student and had intercourse after she graduated in June.
Math teacher and girls’ track coach Jeff Logandro, 32, of Blackwood, is charged with official misconduct, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child.
“The three men engaged in sexual activity with three female students at Triton High School on numerous occasions from November 2011 to June 2012,” prosecutors said in a statement posted on their website. “Logandro and Michielli engaged in sexual activity with students who were under the age of 18, which is why they face charges beyond official misconduct.”
“A two-month investigation,” said prosecutors, “revealed a permissive culture at Triton High School that allowed these crimes to take place unchecked. School policy prohibits teachers from socializing with students outside of school and communicating by phone or by text message, yet these teachers openly did both. It is alleged that throughout the past school year the defendants took a trip to the beach with the victims and exchanged sexually explicit text messages.”
Triton’s principal, Catherine DePaul, 55, of Woodbury and assistant principal Jernee Kollock of Williamstown were charged with official misconduct for failing to inform authorities of the teachers’ actions, prosecutors allege.
Last April, a female student told a substitute teacher at the school that there were teachers engaging in sexual contact with students. The substitute reported this information to DePaul, who did not contact law enforcement or state officials, according to prosecutors.
“When DePaul asked the female student to write an account of the allegations, Kollock stayed in the room with the student, advised her on what to write and corrected versions of the student’s account. According to a probable cause statement, DePaul told investigators she had tried to protect the teachers from the consequences of their actions,” prosecutors said.
All five adults have been put on administrative leave, according to the Black Horse Regional School District.
“Let me be clear,” Supt. John F. Golden stated, “we have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior of any kind. As educators and community members nothing is more important to us than the safety and well-being of our students.”