Charleroi Area, Bethlehem-Center sued in sex assault case
A teenage girl who was sexually assaulted in 2012 by a music teacher is suing the Charleroi Area and Bethlehem-Center school districts for failing to protect her.
The girl, now 17, claims Charleroi Area High School Principal Patricia Mason was aware of the girl's relationship with Jeffrey Hahn.
The lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in Pittsburgh, doesn't identify the victim or her parents, referring to them under pseudonyms.
Hahn, 25, of Belle Vernon, pleaded guilty to the assault in April 2013 and is serving a four- to eight-year sentence in a state prison. Under his plea agreement Hahn faces seven years of probation after his release.
He was a seventh-grade teacher at Bethlehem-Center when he was hired to direct Charleroi Area High School's spring musical. The suit contends Bethlehem-Center knew of previous inappropriate contact involving Hahn and other female students and failed to fully investigate complaints or discipline him.
In addition to the school districts and Mason, the girl and her parents are suing Jennifer Mason Joyce, the teacher in charge of the musical and the person who recruited Hahn.
The suit alleges the victim told Joyce about inappropriate contact by Hahn that preceded the attack. It further contends Joyce ignored the allegations and didn't report them to police as required by state law.
Police charged Joyce with failure to report suspected child abuse. She was placed in a 12-month pretrial diversion program in January 2013, according to Washington County court records.
The 13-page suit is asking for unspecified compensatory damages, attorney fees and other costs.
The lawsuit stated Mason denied the victim counseling during school days and failed to stop harassment of the victim by other students.
The suit claims Hahn sexually assaulted the teen May 4 in a basement storage room in the Charleroi Area High School auditorium.
During the assault, Hahn allegedly rammed the girl's head against a wall. The victim claims in the suit that no one in the district cleaned a blood stain off of the wall and it remained there for the rest of the school year.
The suit contends school officials fostered a hostile atmosphere when the girl returned to school in August 2012. The girl claims she was harassed by students, broke down crying and suffered panic attacks in classes.
During one episode, Mason allegedly pulled the victim out of class, demanded to know why she was “making a scene,” told the teen she didn't believe Hahn raped her and told her to stop “telling outrageous stories,” the suit states.
Mason allegedly told the girl she was making up the assault, “because she just wanted attention.” The suit states Mason refused to allow the girl to seek help or guidance from teachers, told her she couldn't leave the classroom and gave her “two minutes to get straightened up and return to class.”
The girl's parents took her out of Charleroi Area High School and enrolled her in the district's cyber school program Oct. 1, 2012. They contended the district retaliated against the girl for seeking help, according to the lawsuit. Former Superintendent Dr. Brad Ferko approved cyber school for six classes, but she had to take algebra and band/music classes at the high school.
The suit states the girl tried to make the schedule work, but continued to be harassed by students and had to walk past the blood stain on the wall nearly six months after the alleged assault.
In 2013, the district referred the family to a truancy prevention program because of the teen's absences. The suit states officials were told the absences were excused and included doctor visits and criminal proceedings against Hahn.
The girl's parents wanted to transfer her out of the district because of an alleged “hostile environment” after the 2012-2013 school year, but officials refused to facilitate the transfer, the suit states.
The girl withdrew from the district for the 2013-2014 year and enrolled in an independent cyber school program.
In May 2013, the family sued the school districts, Mason and Joyce in Washington County Court. They are seeking “substantial damages,” in that suit.
Newly hired Charleroi Superintendent Edward Zelich referred comment to district solicitor Seth A. Tongchinsub, who did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.