Last fall, a scandal erupted at Triton Regional High School in Runnemede, New Jersey. Three popular teachers—young and male—were arrested for inappropriate relationships with three female students. Two administrators—the principal and a vice principal—were also arrested for failing to report the relationships to the proper authorities.
Last Friday, Jeff Logandro, 32, and Daniel Michielli, 27, both math teachers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit official misconduct and were sentenced to 30 days of home confinement and three years probation. They are also barred from teaching again in New Jersey. The men had also been charged with criminal sexual contact and child endangerment; those charges were dropped in the plea deal.
A day earlier, on Thursday, Nick Martinelli, 28, a health and physical education teacher, pleaded guilty to hindering apprehension. He allegedly had sexual relations with another girl, but because she was 18, he was not charged with child endangerment. He admitted in court that he told the student to keep their association secret from investigators.
The improper relationships came to light last April, when a student who was not one of the victims told a substitute teacher that other teachers were “hooking up” with students. The substitute teacher reported the allegation to the principal, Catherine DePaul, 55. Instead of contacting authorities, DePaul asked the student to write an account of the allegations. Vice Principal Jernee Kollock, 39, stayed in the room and made corrections to the student’s account.
DePaul and Kollock were charged with official misconduct. DePaul pleaded guilty to failure to report a crime and was sentenced to one year of probation. Kollock is still awaiting trial.
My visit to Triton
A month before the student first revealed the “hook ups,” in March 2012, I presented my program, now called Love Fraud and How to Avoid It, to the senior class at Triton High School.
All of the girls were seniors.
Daniel Michielli was the senior class advisor.
Jernee Kollock was the administrator who sent a few disruptive students to the office.
Approximately 300 seniors were in the auditorium that morning. Yes, some were distracted, more interested in socializing. But I distinctly remember one young lady who was listening intently. Was she one of the victims? What was she thinking?
Was Michielli, the senior class advisor, in the auditorium? Or were the other two teachers? If so, what were they thinking?
Jernee Kollock was there, and I know what she was thinking. She told me that she’d never heard abusive dating discussed the way I discussed it. But a month later, when a blatant case of abusive dating arose in her school, was she more concerned with protecting the teachers than the students? On that day, what was she thinking?
Abuse of power
This scandal is a classic case of betrayal. The teachers were in positions of power and authority over the students, and they abused their positions. A letter by the mother of one of the victims, which the assistant prosecutor read at the sentencing of Jeff Logandro and Daniel Michielli, provided a sense of the betrayal. The Associated Press reported:
The young woman who had a relationship with Logandro was in the courtroom watching Friday as a prosecutor read a letter from her mother, who was not identified by name, on the case: “Looking back now I can see why she never wanted to get up and go to school during her senior year,” the letter said. “Now I know how she spent her final year in high school living in fear of you and your actions toward her and the pressure from you to keep your secret.”
“Her reputation, integrity, self-respect and self-image have all been compromised by the actions of her teacher,” she said in the letter, adding that the fact that community members blamed the teen for the actions made it even harder to cope with.
The young woman authorities said Michielli had sex with was not in court. Assistant Prosecutor Mark Chase said that her family decided it was best she not attend.
Other parts of the letter were reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Most interesting to me,” she wrote in the letter read by Assistant Prosecutor Mark Chase, “is that a lot of the community blames the girls and their families.
“My further disappointment and further impact comes from the community … which place blame on the girls and not their offenders,” Chase read. “I thank the parents and students who have seen through the gossip and who have supported the girls … Unfortunately there are too few of you.”
The mother’s statement spoke of her daughter’s “loss of camaraderie among her classmates, the idea of being so alone. … The humiliation by so many people and the hurtful things that are said when all the facts are not truly known.”
I don’t know if the teachers were disordered, or just stupid young men who thought they could get away with something. I don’t know if the administrators experienced a terrible lapse of judgment, or if there was, as the prosecutor stated, “a culture at Triton High School where teachers thought they could get away with inappropriate relations with students.”
I don’t know what these teachers and administrators were thinking. I do know that their actions betrayed not only three young women, but all of their students.