Pleasant Valley retaliation, cronyism detailed in grand jury report
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a series of details from the grand jury report about improprieties in Pleasant Valley School District. Part 2 will be published Saturday.
Conspiracy, cronyism, bullying, retaliation and an administrator’s sexual relationship with a principal in Pleasant Valley School District are documented in the grand jury report released to the public on Wednesday by the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office.
The 106-page report details why the grand jury called for criminal charges to be brought against former Superintendent Carole Geary and Assistant to the Superintendent Christopher Fisher, with additional charges recommended against Joshua Krebs.
Krebs, currently on paid administrative leave, was arrested on wiretap and perjury charges and is awaiting trial.
The jury heard the testimony of 64 witnesses and reviewed more than 20,000 pages of documents while empaneled.
The jury also found that those “brave enough to step forward and criticize the administration were frequently made targets of retaliation.”
Some of the key testimony:
Elaine Adams, paraeducator, testified to being on a date and having seen Krebs and middle school Principal Rocco Seiler at a bar where the two were in the company of a young woman who was “clearly intoxicated.” Adams testified that the two were touching the woman inappropriately and that she appeared to be “scared.”
Adams’ date confronted the two men and got her away from the men. Adams arranged to get her a ride home.
Adams recalled being called down to her principal’s office and being asked about the incident at the bar. The principal at the time was Penny Derr, and Adams testified that by the “tone and types of questions being asked” it appeared to her that Derr was attempting to cover up for Krebs. Adams said she felt that Derr appeared to be jealous, according to the report.
Derr later testified before the grand jury and admitted to having had a relationship with Krebs on several occasions.
This relationship was also confirmed by Derr’s longtime friend and co-worker Vickie O’Rourke.
Krebs later denied the affair when questioned before the grand jury.
In the days that followed, Adams wrote to her date Dale Lifer about the incident using Facebook messaging and her school district email. A couple of days later, Seiler reprimanded Adams for using her email for personal use. In an interview dated June 22, 2018, Alex Sterenchok, the tech coordinator for the district, said Seiler would have been able to monitor Adams’ email usage, including the addresses of the various email contacts she had.
Adams was pressured to request a transfer from Pleasant Valley Elementary to the middle school. Adams believed that she was not the only one who had observed the misconduct, that others employed by the school district were present.
She believes that word of the misconduct spread, however, no effort was made to inquire into matters by the administration, according to the grand jury report.
Dale Lifer, a resident of the district, and Adams’ date, testified before the grand jury to the events of the night.
He told the grand jury he remembered the girl being upset saying something about how one of the men had been her teacher.
Lifer said he contacted then high school Principal John Gress to complain about the behavior of Krebs and Seiler.
Lifer said he never heard from administration about the incident.
Rocco Seiler, Pleasant Valley Middle School principal, was granted immunity by Monroe County District Attorney David Christine in return for his testimony regarding the events of the night at the bar with Krebs.
Seiler testified that on the day of the bar incident he was at an administrator’s house with Josh Krebs. He indicated all of the partygoers were drinking alcohol. Seiler claimed that he became intoxicated at the administrator’s house.
He recalls being driven to the bar by Krebs. Seiler claimed his recollection of the events is incomplete. He does not recall any inappropriate conduct by him or Krebs but claims he does not dispute the accounts of his inappropriate behavior. Seiler remembers that somehow he ended up at Krebs’ house and got a ride home at some point.
The report notes that Brian Morgan, the guidance counselor, was also questioned. At the time Morgan and Seiler were close friends. Morgan told the grand jury that Seiler admitted to him that he acted inappropriately by being intoxicated and “making out” with a girl.
Rick Williams, retired state police trooper and Pleasant Valley security officer, testified that he had been present in the bar when Seiler and Krebs were there but left before the alleged incident with the young woman. He also testified that about a week after the incident, Geary called him into her office, along with Krebs and Derr, and asked him some “hypothetical” questions about criminal charges being brought by someone even if the victim doesn’t come forward.
Vickie O’Rourke, administrative secretary, testified that she had been close friends with Penny Derr. She testified that she had become suspicious that Derr and Krebs were having an affair and she confronted Derr, who admitted to having slept with Krebs while away at a conference.
Derr later provided a statement under oath admitting to the affair.
After word got out about Krebs placing surveillance cameras in the employee lounge, O’Rourke said, “Contrary to her public statements concerning the matter and her expression of concern to the board, Geary actually thought it was a joke.”
O’Rourke said Geary made photocopies of pictures of cameras and hung them from the ceiling of Krebs’ office and placed old cameras all over Krebs’ desk. O’Rourke said that Geary was laughing the whole time.
Dawn Wisser, special education teacher, identified Geary and Fisher as those who would engineer who would be on the fast track within the district’s administration. Specifically Penny Derr, Krebs and Todd VanNortwick.
Wisser testified that Krebs was promoted to positions within the district that he did not have the credentials or experience for. At one point Krebs was promoted to math supervisor while not having a degree in mathematics and not having even taught math.
Wisser also testified that she was one of a few teachers who questioned the use of the Step By Step Learning Program. There were many complaints about the program, but she said that the more the teachers complained, the more hostile the administration became. The teachers became fearful of retaliation for speaking out against the program. Wisser took her concerns to a number of board members but was still afraid to address the board publicly. Wisser was accused of helping her students cheat on their PSSA tests and was suspended without pay for five days. Wisser filed a grievance for retaliatory behavior and won at arbitration.
Wisser told the grand jury, “transfer is used as a very subtle, hostile attack on teachers because they can get away with it very easily and the teachers are constantly moved, you’re packing, you’re unpacking, you’re worn out, you can’t get your curriculum under you, and eventually you get tired and leave.”
After school had already ended for summer break Wisser attended an in-service training at the school building. When she returned to her classroom following the training, it was completely empty. Wisser noted that they took everything including her car keys, her lunch, her wallet and her purse. Eventually, she located all her belongings in big piles, wrapped in plastic, on pallets in the gymnasium.
Wisser said that blue IEP folders, which had been locked away as required by law, were sitting in plain view in plastic tubs, exposed to whoever may walk by.