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Lawsuit alleges Plum school administrators failed to investigate properly rumors of abuse

Megan Guza
| Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, 11:00 a.m.
Former Plum High School science teacher Jason Cooper (left) walks into District Judge Linda Zucco's courtroom in Plum with his lawyer Michael DeRiso on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.
Tribune-Review
Former Plum High School science teacher Jason Cooper (left) walks into District Judge Linda Zucco's courtroom in Plum with his lawyer Michael DeRiso on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.
Plum Senior High School in Plum on Thursday, May 19, 2016.
Tribune-Review
Plum Senior High School in Plum on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Plum School District officials and administrators failed to fully investigate rumors of inappropriate contact between a student and high school science teacher and routinely chose to protect teachers over students, according to a lawsuit filed by one of the district's teenage victims of institutional sexual assault.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, names the school district, Superintendent Timothy Glasspool, high school principal Ryan Kociela, former school resource officer Mark Kost, the borough, and Jason Cooper, who pleaded guilty last year to assaulting the woman, identified in the suit as Jane Doe.

Cooper is one of three former Plum teachers charged with having sex with students since 2015. He is serving up to three years in prison.

A victim of teacher Joseph Ruggieri filed a similar lawsuit in September , alleging district officials allowed teachers to prey on students. Ruggieri is serving 2 to 5 years in prison for institutional sexual assault.

According to the most recent suit, the victim began talking with Cooper, a science teacher, about things of a personal nature when she was 17, and the conversations moved beyond the classroom. She said she and Cooper had sex five or six times after she turned 18.

Cooper was arrested Feb. 11, 2015 after allegations of inappropriate contact came to light. He was subsequently charged with several counts of witness intimidation after he tried contacting the victim.

The suit claims the defendants violated the victim's due process rights “under a failure to investigate / reckless investigation theory “ and a “state-created danger theory.”

The suit also charges negligence on the part of Kociela, Glasspool, Cooper and Kost, alleging that the administrators “breached their duty of care” by not adequately investigating the illegal contact between Cooper and the then-student, and that Cooper was negligent when he engaged in inappropriate contact with her.

The district employed a practice in which officials “conducted their own investigations of possible serious crimes, including sexual assault, even when the administrators conducting the investigations were conflicted and compromised rather than turning such matters over to authorities such as the police department, ChildLine or CYF,” to the detriment of students, according to the suit. It also cited the borough's practice of allowing the school resource officer step aside and allow the district to conduct its own investigation.

A grand jury in May found “systematic failures to protect students” on the part of the district and its administrators but ultimately found no criminal wrongdoing.

In all, the lawsuit alleges a violation of the woman's Fourteenth Amendment rights, sexual harassment in violation of Title IX, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and sexual assault and battery.

The suit, filed on behalf of the victim by attorney David Conn, demands a judgement of more than $75,000 “plus punitive damages, interest, cost of suit, and any other damages deemed proper by the Court.”

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