Discretion allowed in W-B Area policy

June 18th, 2015 2:28 pm

First Posted: 2/12/2014

WILKES-BARRE — Under the Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s school code, suspended Coughlin High School Dean of Students Stephen Stahl may have been allowed to stay on as an employee despite several run-ins with the law.

That is if he hadn’t just been charged with having sex with a minor.

Police charged Stahl, 47, of Hunlock Township, on Monday with corrupting a minor after a former Coughlin student told them Stahl had an extended sexual relationship with her more than 10 years ago.

Stahl has been suspended without pay pending the investigation, but one harassment conviction and two drunken driving convictions brought to light after his arraignment Monday raised questions whether Stahl should have been allowed to earn a leadership position. He was promoted to dean of students Jan. 2.

Under the new school code, which was passed in January last year, teachers may continue working despite a single DUI conviction, said the district’s solicitor, Raymond Wendolowski.

Stahl pleaded guilty to driving drunk in 2008 in York County, a charge that was an ungraded misdemeanor as it was considered his first offense, according to court records. He had been convicted in 1996 of driving drunk, a second-degree misdemeanor, but that offense likely was wiped from his record.

Misdemeanors are tiered from ungraded, third, second and first degree, with first-degree convictions bearing greatest penalties.

A second DUI misdemeanor charge of the first-degree would garner a three-year suspension under the school policy, Wendolowski said.

“It would not be a lifetime disqualifying event, but it would be a three-year disqualifying event if the second guilty plea or conviction was graded as a misdemeanor of the first degree,” Wendolowski said.

Stahl also was convicted of harassment, a third-degree misdemeanor, in 2009 when he made more than 100 phone calls, some of them anonymous and hang-up calls, to a Coughlin teacher who had just ended a romantic relationship with him.

The school district has a policy for inter-staff harassment incidents, but Wendolowski said each case is measured on its own merit.

“Clearly, a first-time harassment could lead to termination if the facts were egregious enough. But certainly, harassment is handled on a case-by-case basis,” Wendolowski said. “There are many harassment complaints that fall short of someone being discharged. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person who is the alleged harasser would be terminated.”

Regardless, the Stahl investigation, as well as another district teacher’s Feb. 4 guilty plea to animal cruelty charges, prompted the school board to accept a new policy that will require teachers to renew their background clearances every three years instead of only at their employment onset.

Jeff Ney, president of the the Wilkes-Barre Area Education Association, said he is all in favor of a policy that better protects the children.

“I do have an issue with the cost being put back on the teachers,” Ney said.

Ney suggested teachers should bear the cost when they apply for a new position or added responsibility — like a coach position within the district. School-mandated background checks should be paid for by the district, Ney said.

Ney said he has been in touch with school board members and the superintendent and they plan to discuss the policy details soon.