Avonworth approves retirement

By NANCY WHYTE

Looking for “closure,” the Avonworth School Board voted at its work session Monday to approve the retirement of a teacher facing criminal charges for the non-school-related sexual assault of a minor.

Elementary music teacher Walter Street, 59, of Ben Avon, was arrested Jan. 31 by Ohio Township Police. He is charged with the rape and sexual assault of a relative from the time she was 10. In 2009, at the age of 17, the girl reported the alleged abuse to the director of a youth organization, but recanted the charges when questioned by police. After staff at Avonworth Elementary reported that they believed Street was inappropriately affectionate with children at the school, school resource officer Chris Simcoviak investigated in January. Although Street has not been charged for any conduct at the school, the investigation turned up evidence supporting the 2009 allegations. The victim, now 22, has confirmed her earlier statements.

Since his arrest, Street has been suspended without pay from his teaching position. He waived a preliminary hearing on Feb. 13, at which time his bond was reduced from $200,000 to $100,000. He is scheduled for formal arriagnment in the Allegheny County Court of Commohn Pleas on April 10.

The vote to accept the letter was unanimous among the members in attendance. Vice-president Brenda Barlek and member Eric Templin were absent. School board member Patrick Stewart participated via telephone.

In accepting the letter of retirement, the board stated that “any acceptance of the retirement does not reflect any acceptance of Street’s conduct nor does it endorse any request by Mr. Street for his pension – which is a matter between him and the state pension board.”

Board president David Oberdick stated that accepting the letter would “bring closure and sever the (school district’s) relationship with Mr. Street.” Oberdick also said that that solicitor William Andrews, who was not present at the school board meeting, had recommended acceptance of the letter from Mr. Street.

According to Avonworth superintendent Thomas Ralston, as required by Pennsylvania Department of Education standards, the district had already “submitted proper paperwork to have his (Street’s teaching) certificate revoked.” Ralston also pointed out that if the retirement letter was not accepted, and “if something changed (in Street’s criminal) case, he would be eligible to return” to his teaching position.

Board member Jeff Carraway stated that the “best way to protect the children is to accept the resignation as written.”

The newest member of the Avonworth school board, Kristin Thompson, said that there was, perhaps, “the perception that he’s being allowed to retire, to walk away like any other” employee.

Ralston explained that an employee choosing to end his/her employment with the district could use any terminology, including, “I’m resigning, retiring, or quitting” and the result was the same: employment ends. Ralston also pointed out that the case against Street is still on-going, but that “so far there has been no claim that any illegal activity took place at school.”

When asked if Street would receive his pension, Ralston stated that the school board and the school district “don’t have anything to do with retirement. Retirement is handled on the state level.” He said that a teacher’s “pension could be at risk if something happened at the school, if there was illegal activity on the job, but that is not the current situation.”

Board member Robert Wible summarized, “We don’t know what’s going to happen down the road.” If the letter is accepted, we “cut this tonight” and there is “no other place that this could go wrong on our part. This is the time.”

Stewart added, “We have the opportunity to move on, to put this in our rear view mirror.” The board should “treat this like any other employee and let him move on,” he said.

Board member Beau Blauser stated that the board had “the opportunity for closure, and we should take advantage of it.”

Oberdick that the district’s own review continues and that officials have been asked by Ohio Township police not to discuss the particulars of the continuing investigation.

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