LEBANON – The Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas has overturned an arbitrator's decision to allow a teacher to continue teaching in a school 10 years after he had a romantic relationship with a student.
According to the court's findings, Luke Todd Scipioni, a high school teacher and basketball coach for the Cornwall-Lebanon School District, had a relationship with an 18-year-old student during the 2003-2004 school year. According to court documents, on the day of her high school graduation, the platonic relationship became sexual.
Scipioni later resigned as the basketball coach, citing family pressure. In 2010, Scipioni complained to the school principal that he had been turned down to be the boys' basketball coach. Principal David Helsel said he was concerned because of rumors about a relationship he had with a former student. Scipioni denied the allegations.
In 2014, additional information about the situation was provided to the superintendent by an anonymous caller. An investigation began and a number of people, including the former student and Scipioni's estranged wife, were all questioned.
Scipioni's estranged wife said she had suspected the two were having an affair during the last half of the 2004 school year and found messages about their affair on Scipioni's computer during the summer of 2004. Scipioni admitted to the sexual affair, she said.
The former student admitted to the sexual affair during the investigation but said it occurred after she turned 18 and when she was no longer a student. Scipioni said they had been “friends” and refused to say if he'd had a sexual relationship with the student. He was suspended without pay due to his lack of cooperation.
A search of his school computer revealed numerous inappropriate emails, and school officials determined his dishonesty justified suspension and termination.
The arbitrator found that Scipioni had failed to fulfill his duty to respond honestly to questions posed by the district officials, but said it was understandable. He also found that despite a sexual relationship commencing after graduation between the former student and the teacher, he could find no culpability because it occurred after graduation. He said Scipioni should receive a year-long suspension without pay.
During the appeal by the district, the court determined the “romantic” relationship began before the school year ended. It also said by failing to be truthful during the investigation, Scipioni compromised the district's ability to implement public policy that requires the district to protect its students.
“Honestly, in this case, if the arbitrator would have made a couple different findings of facts, I don't think anybody could have touched this decision, but he didn't,” attorney Fred Wolfe of Tucker Arensberg told the Pennsylvania Record.
Wolfe said there are plenty of laws that say teachers can't groom students, have romantic conversations with students or have sexual relations students, but there is another aspect of this case that he found to be more interesting.
“I'm not recalling any [cases] that say it's a violation of public policy to lie to your employer during the investigation of alleged misconduct. That secondary part may be what this case ends up standing out for,” Wolfe said.
If Scipioni had been truthful from the beginning, he still likely would have been terminated.
"But it would have been for one violation of public policy instead of two," Wolfe said.