Cornwall-Lebanon school district loses appeal and must reinstate teacher fired in student sex scandal
CORNWALL, Lebanon County — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a request from the Cornwall-Lebanon School District to appeal a lower court’s decision that the district erred by firing a teacher for having sex with an 18-year-old student on the night of her graduation, according to court documents and a Lebanon Daily News report.
The denial ends a series of back-and-forth rulings and appeals dating back to 2014, when the district fired Luke “Todd” Scipioni for having an affair with the former student in 2004, when he was employed by the district as a social studies teacher and girls basketball coach at Cedar Crest High School.
The Supreme Court’s decision will allow Scipioni to return to teaching for the first time since his firing three years ago, the Daily News reports.
Superintendent Philip Domencic issued a statement to the Daily News expressing his displeasure with the ruling.
“The facts of this case remain undisputed,” Domencic said in the statement. “What has been in dispute is the appropriate consequence for Mr. Scipioni’s conduct. The Cornwall-Lebanon School District has been firm in its stance that this conduct was not appropriate for a public school teacher. The District will, however, abide by the decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upholding the arbitrator’s award and returning Mr. Scipioni to employment.”
Scipioni was coach of the girls’ basketball team in the 2003-04 season, when he struck up a relationship with the student, who confided in him that she had been sexually abused — a claim she later recanted, according to the Daily News.
The relationship intensified during the course of the year, until they had sex on the night of her graduation, a month after she turned 18, the Daily News reports, based on court documents. Their physical relationship continued through that summer but ended when the young woman went to college.
Rumors of their relationship circulated in the district at the time, and Scipioni eventually stepped down from his coaching position. When he attempted to return to coach the boys’ basketball team years later, the school told him they did not want him in the position because of the suspected relationship with the student.
Scipioni reportedly denied having an inappropriate relationship with the student when questioned by school officials in 2010.
The affair reportedly resurfaced in 2014, when Scipioni was going through a divorce. The school district got an anonymous phone call from someone claiming to have knowledge of the 2004 relationship. The school conducted an investigation and fired Scipioni in October of 2014.
The Cornwall Lebanon Education Association, the union representing district teachers, filed a grievance on his behalf, according to the Daily News report. After a series of hearings, in August 2015 an arbitrator ruled in favor of Scipioni and ordered that he should be reinstated after being suspended for one year without pay and benefits.
The arbitrator found Scipioni at fault for his failure to be truthful to district officials and for a separate issue involving inappropriate emails, but noted the district did not accuse him of having an improper relationship with the student prior to her graduation, and he was not culpable for the relationship they had after she graduated.
The district appealed that ruling in the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas and won, as the arbitrator’s decision was reversed in April of 2016.
The school board voted to appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court in February, prompting the latest — and final — ruling.