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Plum schools reach tentative settlement in sex-abuse lawsuit

Natasha Lindstrom
| Friday, July 28, 2017, 5:39 p.m.
Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri, charged with having sex with a student, is escorted out of the Plum police station in June 2015. (Trib photo)
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri, charged with having sex with a student, is escorted out of the Plum police station in June 2015. (Trib photo)
Ex-Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri, accompanied by a constable, leaves Plum District Judge Linda Zucco's office after a hearing on July 29, 2015.
Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Ex-Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri, accompanied by a constable, leaves Plum District Judge Linda Zucco's office after a hearing on July 29, 2015.

Plum Borough School District has reached a tentative settlement with a former student who accused school officials of failing to investigate accusations of sexual assaults by a politically powerful teacher, court records filed Thursday show.

The amount of the proposed settlement was not disclosed.

In September, a woman identified only as Jane Doe filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming that Plum school officials knew about allegations of sex abuse but did nothing for more than three years, allegedly allowing Plum High School teacher Joseph Ruggieri to keep preying on female students. The plaintiff said she was 17 when Ruggieri began having sex with her.

Ruggieri, formerly vice president of the teachers union, is serving a prison sentence of two to five years. He pleaded guilty in April 2016 to institutional sexual assault, corrupting a minor and intimidating a witness.

A month later, an Allegheny County grand jury released a 100-page report concluding that Plum school district administrators turned “a blind eye to obvious signs of teacher misconduct” that allowed a “suspected serial child predator” to continue teaching years before his arrest . Despite citing “systematic failures to protect students,” the grand jury could not find enough evidence to recommend criminal charges against administrators.

The district placed Superintendent Timothy Glasspool on leave last summer, but he returned to his post on Sept. 27 — the same day that Jane Doe sued the district.

In the civil lawsuit, Jane Doe also cited as defendants teacher Drew Zoldak, school resource officer Mark Kost, Plum Borough, Glasspool and former Plum High School Principal Ryan Kociela, who resigned in February .

The plaintiff alleged that Kociela, Glasspool and Kost had heard complaints about Ruggieri's inappropriate behaviors dating back to at least 2011. She further said that the district treated Ruggieri differently than other accused teachers because of his reputation and political and personal ties.

She argued that the district violated her constitutional rights and sought compensatory and punitive damages.

A judicial order filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh states that the “case has been resolved” aside from payment of the settlement and taking legal action to formally dismiss the case. Judge Nora Barry Fischer noted in her order that she will address any issues that may arise while the “settlement is being finalized.”

Attorneys representing the unnamed plaintiff did not return a call for comment.

Neither did school board President Kevin Dowdell; Glasspool; Plum Borough's attorney Scott Dunlop; Ruggieri's attorney J. Nicholas Ranjan; Kost's attorney Karin Romano; or attorney John Smart, who represents the school district, Glasspool, Kociela and Zoldak.

Separately, attorneys for Plum school officials are still working to resolve a second civil lawsuit filed in January by another female student.

The second Jane Doe claimed she was a victim of former teacher Jason Cooper, who is serving up to three years in prison . She alleged the district violated the victim's due process rights by failing to investigate rumors of inappropriate contact between teachers and students and charged negligence on the part of Kociela, Glasspool, Cooper and Kost. She asked for more than $75,000 plus punitive damages.

Court records for the second case indicate that school officials and their attorneys plan to hold a formal mediation Aug. 14.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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