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Freedom Area teacher arrested after hidden camera catches him snorting pills

| Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, 3:34 p.m.

Freedom Area School District officials planted a hidden camera in the office of a high school health and physical education teacher to catch him snorting crushed pills and giving a student a pill to inhale, New Sewickley police said Tuesday.

“When a situation like this presents itself, it is my responsibility to fully investigate and take whatever action is necessary. That's what I did in this case in order to protect our students,” Freedom Superintendent Jeffrey Fuller said.

Upon handing in his resignation in the superintendent's office, James C. Summers, 41, of Darlington Borough was arrested and charged with drug paraphernalia possession and corruption of minors, police Chief Ron Leindecker said.

Summers remained in the Beaver County Jail, unable to post a $200,000 bond set by Beaver County Senior District Judge John Armour.

Police got information during the week of Nov. 12 about “misconduct” relating to Summers, Leindecker said, but it was too vague to pursue. Police notified the district, and officials there installed a hidden surveillance camera in Summers' office, Leindecker added.

In each of four videos, taken from Nov. 19 through Nov. 21, Summers is seen crushing and inhaling a pill through a small tube. In a fifth video, Summers crushed a pill, gave a student a tube and allowed him to inhale the substance, according to a criminal complaint written by New Sewickley Officer Tom Liberty.

The district turned over the videos to police on Friday.

On Monday, with the school closed for the first day of hunting season, police searched Summers' office and found a plastic tube and powdery residue in a drawer of Summers' desk, Liberty wrote. Leindecker said tests are being conducted to identify the substance and determine whether additional charges against Summers are warranted.

Neither Fuller nor Leindecker would say whether the student who inhaled the pill had been disciplined.

Fuller, in a statement, said a second student was involved, but he would not talk about the student.

Leindecker said police are investigating.

Leindecker said police did not ask the district to conduct surveillance on Summers. Fuller would not say whether the district received previous complaints about him.

Summers started working in the district at the beginning of the 2000-01 school year.

He served briefly as the head varsity football coach in 2008, but left before the end of the season because of health issues.

District Solicitor Matthew Hoffman said Tuesday the high school has surveillance cameras for student safety but they are not in every room.

“For employment purposes for the school, it is permissible,” Hoffman said of installing the hidden camera in Summers' office. “We don't need a search warrant to initiate that kind of surveillance. In this case, we had specific information that (Summers) was engaging in misconduct.”

Stuart Knade, chief counsel for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said Tuesday of the surveillance of Summers, “I have no specific knowledge of it being used in this type of situation.”

Knade said the association has lobbied the Legislature “for greater flexibility for using surveillance cameras for safety of students,” but not as a way to catch employees in wrongdoing.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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