Residents march in protest of CASD decisions

Public, politicians call for action as attorneys continue sparring

By Kyle Carrozza, Staff Writer, The Times


Protestors gather on the steps of the Benner Administration Building. Many called for the resignation of the entire school board in response to recent events.

COATESVILLE – Chanting “the board must go!” a group of about 50 citizens marched from Ash Park to the Benner Administration Building Thursday, calling for the school board to step down after the decision to allow the resignations of two former administrators.

The procession went from Third Avenue, down Lincoln Highway, and culminated at Benner, where people gathered on the steps as members of the community and state politicians Andy Dinniman and Tim Hennessey spoke.

“This is our hood, our community. We fight for ours!” Alphonso Newsuan called out through a megaphone.

Newsuan organized the march to ensure that the school district heard the voices of community members who were upset with the board’s decision to accept the resignations of former Superintendent Richard Como and Athletic Director James Donato on Sept. 24. However, Newsuan added that marching alone is not enough. He said that protests have to be coupled with action.

“This is the first day of the rest of our political lives,” he said. “We’re going to vote. We’re going to voice our disdain for everything that was done. We’re going to attend the meetings. We will not go quietly into the night.”

State Sen. Andy Dinniman announced that he was in the process of drafting a bill in response to the recent incident.

The bill, which would be an addition to the school code in Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act, would require superintendents to be suspended immediately without pay once suspicion of discrimination is reported to the school board. The superintendent would then be required to attend a hearing to decide whether or not probable cause existed for termination.

By requiring a hearing without the option to resign, the law would remove legal burdens from school board decisions, Dinniman said. “Let’s do it in a way that no school board could say, ‘We face a legal obstacle,’” he said.

Dinniman said that legal action is not going to fix everything. He said that people coming together, in marches, for example, will “change the hearts and minds of prejudiced people.”

Hennessey said that Como and Donato’s behavior is unacceptable in today’s society. “It’s hard to believe that we’re here in 2013 and hearing that kind of ugliness and animus,” he said. “These two people, while they might have opened some wounds, that doesn’t reflect our society.”

Acting Assistant Superintendent Teresa Powell, who, along with Abdallah Hawa, brought Como and Donato’s alleged text messages to the school board, also spoke, saying that she was glad  the community could unite in the face of such adversity.

“It’s always about the children. If we have people at the very top who are totally responsible for the education of our children, if their views are racist, then wow, what are we putting in the heads of our children?” she said.

The march comes in the wake of an ongoing back-and-forth between attorney Samuel Stretton, who represents Powell and Hawa, and school board solicitor James Ellison.

In a statement released on Thursday, Stretton claimed that Hawa, the district’s director of technology, had been locked out of the district’s computers and replaced by a private company. He also said that Powell had been stripped of many of her duties, including being removed from a hiring committee. In the statement, Stretton repeated his call for the removal of Acting Superintendent Angelo Romaniello and Ellison, suggesting that no serious reform can occur when strong ties to the former administration exist.

In response, Ellison contested the claims. “Mr. Stretton is wrong once again,” Ellison wrote, saying that access and responsibilities have not been changed for Hawa or Powell. “Each of them continues to hold their important roles in the district leadership,” the statement said.

In a Wednesday message sent to district employees, Romaniello said that Reclamere, a data security firm, had come in to work on the computers in order to assist the district in keeping information for potential legal actions. “By law, once the district reasonably anticipates litigation, it must ensure the preservation of relevant documents, data, and information, including backup media,” the message said.

Issues about computer security have prompted some residents to question why Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan did not obtain a court order to secure evidence in his ongoing investigation. On Thursday, Hogan  that “there are multiple ways to secure evidence, and I can’t comment on what we did” or why. Hogan said that a couple residents have asked him to attend the next board meeting, which he said would not be appropriate.

“That’s not the way we do criminal investigations,” Hogan said. “According to prosecutorial ethics and other legal constraints, I would not be allowed to comment.”

In the meantime, Ellison said the district “will continue reaching out” to staff, faculty, students, families, and groups such as the NAACP. “My understanding is that the district will be using the Intermediate Unit for the superintendent’s search,” he said.

Another march is planned from Ash Park to the 9/10 Center before the Oct. 8 school board committee meeting.

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