Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk reported the arrest Thursday of three Triton High School teachers. (Image: Cherry Hill Courier Post)
RUNNEMEDE, N.J. -- A sex scandal erupted Thursday at a high school here, and a top law enforcement official said a culture of permissiveness allowed male teachers to pursue sexual relationships with female students.
Three faculty members at Triton Regional High School -- math teachers Jeff Logandro, 32, and Daniel Michielli, 27, both of Blackwood, N.J.; and health instructor Nick Martinelli, 28, of Cherry Hill, N.J. -- allegedly engaged in sexual activity and other misconduct with separate members of last year's senior class.
And when the school's top administrators were told of the alleged activities, Principal Catherine DePaul and Vice Principal Jernee Kollock worked to protect the teachers rather than turn them in, authorities allege.
"It's obvious there existed a culture at Triton High School whereby teachers thought they could get by with improper relationships with their students and administrators turned a blind eye to evidence of these relationships' existence," Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said Thursday at a news conference announcing charges against all five staffers.
The improper activity allegedly occurred from November to June of the 2011-12 school year, the prosecutor said.
"School policy prohibits teachers from socializing with students outside of school and communicating by phone or by text message, yet these teachers openly did both," the prosecutor's office asserted in an account of its two-month investigation.
"It is alleged that throughout the past school year, the defendants took a trip to the beach with the victims and exchanged sexually explicit text messages."
All three teachers are accused of official misconduct. Martinelli was also the boys' soccer coach and Logandro was the girls' cross country coach.
Logandro and Michielli face additional charges of criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child because they are accused of engaging in sexual activity with girls younger than 18, the prosecutor said. Michielli also is accused of sexual assault.
DePaul, 55, of Woodbury, N.J., and Kollock, 39, of Williamstown, N.J., are charged with official misconduct. All five educators have been suspended.
According to the prosecutor, DePaul learned of the allegations in April from a substitute teacher who had been told by a pupil that teachers were engaging in sexual contact with students.
DePaul did not alert authorities as the law required but instead "conducted a halfhearted and inadequate inquiry aimed primarily at protecting the teachers and covering up their relationships with the students," Faulk said.
As part of that effort, Faulk said the student who had alerted the substitute teacher was told to write down her account. Kollock then interfered to "water down" and change portions of what the student wrote, Faulk alleged.
The student who went to the substitute teacher was not one of the girls involved with the teachers, Faulk said.
Lawyers for the five accused could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Rumors began to spread after suspensions took effect in the last school year for two of the teachers and early last month for the third. Each of the teachers earns about $50,000 annually.
DePaul, who earned $120,000, and Kollock, who earned $93,000, both were suspended Wednesday. Kollock had moved to a new high school this school year.
Triton serves about 1,600 students from Bellmawr, Gloucester Township and Runnemede, which make up the Black Horse Pike Regional School District south of Camden, N.J.
District Superintendent John Golden said a comprehensive review has begun "to prevent this from happening again at this or any other district school."
"I want to ensure students, parents and our community that we have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior of any kind," Golden said in a letter to parents.
Faulk said the alleged scandal is not a failure of the entire district as the necessary policies, regulations and reporting procedures were in place.
"Rather these charges constitute individual and personal moral, ethical and legal failures on the part of the charged teachers and administrators," Faulk said. "Our evidence indicates that the information given to (district officials) was filtered."