Plum officials can’t produce records of sex misconduct investigation

Dec 6, 2015 by

Plum Borough School District solicitor Lee Price issued a statement in June saying a 2011 report of sexual misconduct by English teacher Joseph Ruggieri, who was charged in February with institutional sexual assault for a different incident, was investigated and found to be baseless.

But it turns out that no electronic records exist that would verify that account. It is unclear whether the district has any paper records to back up Mr. Price’s statement, which has been called into question by an attorney for the high school’s former resource officer.

Instead, the statement was based on information that Mr. Price said was provided verbally to his office. He declined Friday to say who provided the information but acknowledged that he saw no written reports or documentation.

Responses to two Right-to-Know requests filed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in October in an effort to document the details of the 2011 investigation revealed that all district email prior to the summer of 2012 was deleted after the district switched from a Microsoft email provider to a Google-based system.

That mass deletion appears to violate a district policy that calls for employees to retain any emails that could be considered public records. Another policy requires district officials to maintain the records for certain periods, depending on the type of record. For example, records that are related to official inquiries and investigations are to be kept for six years.

The Post-Gazette sought emails between former superintendent Lillian Naccarati, high school principal Ryan Kociela and his assistant high school principals, school resource Officer Mark Kost and Superintendent Timothy Glasspool [who was then assistant superintendent] during the time of the 2011 investigation. But district officials said emails from that period no longer exist. It is unclear whether there were ever any emails that were responsive to the Post-Gazette’s request.

Ms. Naccarati has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Post-Gazette.

The district also denied a request for any emails between school administrators and board members relating to the three teachers who were charged this year with institutional sexual assault — Mr. Ruggieri, Jason Cooper and former substitute math teacher and baseball coach Michael Cinefra.

District Right-To-Know officer Cynthia Vento also denied requests for letters, texts, documents or correspondence to or from the administrators regarding the teachers. She indicated that after July 1, 2012, any records that might be responsive were denied because they related to a criminal investigation. However, the district did not itemize the records to which it was referring, so it is impossible to determine what was withheld.

In the response to the Right-to-Know request, Mrs. Vento said the denial was made “on the basis of no such records exist prior to 7/​1/​2012.” It made no reference to records from that date to the present.

Mr. Price said Friday that Mrs. Vento erred in saying that no documents exist. He said some documents do exist as part of personnel files, but they cannot, under law, be released to the media.

In addition to the documents in the personnel files, Mr. Price said it’s possible that some documents related to the 2011 investigation were taken by district attorney’s investigators when they executed search warrants and confiscated records and computer files in May.

But Mr. Price could not confirm that any specific documentation of the 2011 investigation ever existed. He said it’s an assumption of administrators that some of the information taken by investigators was related to the investigation.

As to whether the mass deletion of emails prior to the summer of 2012 was a violation of the district’s email and record retention policies, Mr. Price said employees were warned that the old emails would be deleted.

He could not say whether employees were instructed to review their emails and archive any that could be public records.

Source: Plum officials can’t produce records of sex misconduct investigation | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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