WILKES-BARRE — Hours after Wilkes-Barre Area School Board member Ned Evans insisted he will not resign over a Facebook comment regarding alleged teacher sexual assault of a student in Arizona, the district superintendent issued a written statement saying he and the remaining board members are asking Evans to resign.
“On behalf of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, I apologize for the insensitive and inappropriate comment made by Board member Ned Evans,” Superintendent Brian Costello wrote. “Since his comment does not meet the high standards all Board members should uphold, the remaining members of the Board of Education and I have asked Ned Evans for his resignation.”
Contacted late Tuesday afternoon, School Board President Joe Caffrey said “the statement speaks for itself,” and that he had not heard anything from Evans after the statement was issued. Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said he also had not heard anything following the statement, though he noted technically a resignation would be submitted to the board, not to him or Costello.
If submitted, the board would still have to vote on accepting the resignation to make it official and trigger the replacement process. Once a resignation is accepted, the board has up to 30 days to fill the seat. After that, a Luzerne County Court judge could make an appointment.
Evans was elected to office in 2013 and re-elected last November. His term runs to December 2021. Typically, if he resigns, a replacement would serve until a special, two-year seat could be put on the ballot in the 2019 election.
As of Tuesday afternoon and prior to Costello’s statement, Evans insisted he has no plans to resign.
“I apologized to my family, my constituents, the board and Dr. Costello,” Evans said. “I just made a stupid mistake. A group of people that don’t like me got together and went to the papers on it. I’ve gotten more calls from my constituents not to resign. I don’t intend to resign over it. I made a stupid mistake and that’s it.”
The imbroglio began when John Suchoski — a frequent board critic who lost an independent bid in the November election against Evans and two other incumbents — posted a screenshot he wrote was sent to him from “a concerned citizen.”
The post appears to have originated from someone identified on Facebook as Jim Stav. Evans said he and Stav are Facebook friends.
The post shows a headline using a slang term to describe a story about a married teacher having a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old student in Arizona. Two comments are below it.
One with the name of Nick Bartorillo, says “Kid is my hero.” The second, from Evans, says “probably broke her teeth on it. Lol”
Suchoski’s post prompted quick outrage, including at least five outright calls for Evans’ resignation.
“I wonder if the other board members will just ignore Ned Evans crazy talk like they always do,” Suchoski posted. “He has been saying crazy stuff for years and not one of the longstanding board members puts him in check.”
“Shouldn’t be on the School Board, period,” a post from Debbie Miller said.
“This guy should have been booted off the school board after his DUI arrest, plain and simple,” a post credited to Ryan Vedrekal said, referring to a drunken driving charge filed against Evans by Kingston Township police in 2015.
After that incident, Evans apologized publicly for his behavior and said he was seeking treatment for his drinking. On Tuesday, he insisted his drinking is “totally under control” and that it was not related to the story comment.
Evans: ‘I took it down’
“I posted that in the morning,” Evans said of the Facebook comment. “It had nothing to do with alcohol or anything like that.”
Evans said “within hours” he received a call from someone who questioned it, and he “looked at it again on social media. I took it down and put my apology up.”
Asked about accusations on Facebook that he had apologized only because the post had been publicized, Evans said no.
“I put up my apology yesterday not even knowing it was going to hit the papers,” he said.
He added that accusing someone of apologizing only because he or she was caught is something “that goes for every situation.”
He also insisted the post did not reflect his true feelings regarding teachers having sexual relations with students.
“I’m not being charged with anything. I’m simply being told that you should have known better. It went without forethought and I apologize wholeheartedly. It was a stupid, idiotic comment. That is not me. It’s not a mirror of my thoughts nor anything else like that.”
Evans’ original comment drew quick attention, including from members of the Save Our Schools organization, which formed to combat the school board’s plan to consolidate grades 9-12 at Coughlin and Meyers into a new building.
Evans has not only championed that move, he has staunchly insisted GAR Memorial High School should be included in the merger, consolidating three schools into a single new building.
Evans believes much of the criticism and publicity comes from members of SOS who have long criticized both his votes on the board and some posts on Facebook. In the past, he has been rebuked by members of SOS for his Facebook comments made in response to their posts.
But by Tuesday afternoon, the calls for his resignation had gone beyond SOS or even regular board meeting attendees.
Stressing she was not speaking in her political capacity as a Wilkes-Barre City Council member, on her personal Facebook page Beth Gilbert said Evans had once been a friend and one of her earliest supporters, but she was “personally outraged and disgusted by the continuous misogynistic comments by this man.
“Make your voice heard,” she wrote. “Say you want Ned Evans to resign.”
Wendolowski said the board has no legal ability to vote to remove Evans under state law in this case.
“The Pennsylvania School Code only provides for removal of a member by the majority of the board if he misses two meetings without justification,” Wendolowski said. “I understand the wisdom of the legislature. You could have a situation where eight board members just don’t particularly like one and vote to silence a vocal minority.”
Wendolowski said the post by Evans was wrong: “Clearly, I don’t think anyone can condone the content of the comment. We’re talking about a news item on the sexual abuse of a child.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish