The Tredyffrin/Easttown School District is absorbing yet another fusillade – this one, an utterly explosive federal lawsuit that, in effect, blames Conestoga, its culture and staff for the months-long sexual abuse of a female student by a teacher’s aide. The student was 15; the aide, Arthur Phillips, was 67.
To bolster its case, the suit details T/E’s “recent history of sex-related scandals”:
- School aide/coach Christine Towers’ affair with a male student, also 15 at the time. Arrested exactly one year to the day before Phillips, Towers is in jail for her crimes.
- The “No Gay Thursday” locker room hazing allegations that some attributed to lax supervision.
- The sexting/cyberbullying charges brought against three students, ages 11 to 15, in Nov. 2015.
The suit says the three scandals show a “pattern of deliberate and reckless indifference to signs of ongoing sexual harassment and sexual abuse” in the district.
That “culture of indifference,” the suit alleges, “created a culture in its schools that permitted Phillips’ predatory conduct.”
For those not up to speed: Phillips, of Potter Lane in Wayne, was arrested in April and sits in county prison awaiting trial on 100 criminal counts including felony statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault of a person under age 16, and child endangerment.
An aide at Stoga for ten years, Phillips was well known for buddying up with students with “Pretzel Fridays” and, more recently, “Cake Wednesdays” – he’d bring the goodies.
In light of his arrest, his 2016 yearbook photo (above) seems especially creepy.
Phillips’ alleged affair with a sophomore – from January to April of this year – was brought to light only after the girl’s mother saw her talking to Phillips, who had parked his car near her house on the Tuesday morning of spring break.
The mother followed Phillips in her car but lost him after he made an illegal turn. When classes resumed, the mother immediately brought her concerns to Conestoga officials.
Phillips was promptly ousted and arrested, and two months later, the girl’s parents dropped a legal bomb: a federal suit against Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and Conestoga Principal Amy Meisinger alleging civil rights and Title 9 sexual harassment and abuse violations.
The suit says they “failed to protect” their daughter, that Phillips’ conduct was “outrageous, open and notorious” and that “his pattern of behavior was known by administrators, teachers and and students.”
After three-and-a-half months of nearly daily contact (kissing, fondling and escalating sexual relations), Phillips raped the student “approximately ten times” until April 10, 2017, the suit alleges.
The law firm bringing suit should send shivers.
Lead attorney is hotshot litigator, Matt Casey, brother of U.S. Senator Bob Casey.
His firm, Ross Feller Casey, regularly wins multi-million judgments for its “catastrophic injury” clients.
Like, say, the $60 million Casey recovered for victims in the Penn State Sandusky sexual abuse case.
In one four-month period last year, Casey won judgments of $29 million, $26.5 million, $26.3 million and $20 million.
Among the firm’s specialties: high-profile sexual abuse cases. Ross Feller Casey has “successfully litigated a series of seven- and eight-figure settlements involving child sexual abuse in a variety of settings,” according to its website.
The suit against T/E, filed June 8, is already featured prominently on the site.
Make no mistake: Casey is shooting for at least seven figures here.
The alleged damages: the student’s mental anguish, depression, humiliation, anxiety, loss of future earning capacity and reimbursement for medical care and therapy.
By the way, the parent of the abused male student in the Towers’ case has also hired Casey and, according to the firm’s press release, might also sue the district. Casey says both families have called for Meisinger’s resignation.
We obtained and reviewed the 35-page Phillips lawsuit.
Two things struck us right away:
First: The disgusting (alleged) details of the alleged wooing, sexual grooming and ultimate daily sexual contact between Phillips and the minor plaintiff both on and off school grounds that went on for months.
Second: The naming of names. More than a dozen Conestoga teachers, aides and administrators are called out by name, charged with either turning a blind eye to the relationship between Phillips and the student or failing to enforce rules that might have prevented the abuse.
Among the ugliest allegations (and please note, these are only allegations):
- That Phillips began grooming the student in October, leading to four months of sexual contact, much of it on school property: in the TV studios, in Phillips office and in his parked car. It alleges the two often left Conestoga during or right after school, venturing to his boat on the Schuylkill, Handel’s Ice Cream, Berwyn Pizza, Estia in Radnor, Christopher’s in Wayne, King of Prussia Mall and nearby restaurants.
- That Phillips and the student once double-dated with a Stoga teacher and her husband. Yeah, you read that right. The suit alleges that a certain Conestoga arts teacher accompanied Phillips and the student to area eateries after school “on several occasions.” It says the teacher once told the plaintiff: “There was always one like you before,” referring to the relationship between Phillips and a student. And that very same teacher and her husband allegedly joined Phillips and the student for dinner at Paladar in King of Prussia to celebrate the girl’s 16th birthday in March. Nauseating and completely outrageous if true.
- That teachers and staff – knowingly or unknowingly – may have been asleep at the switch. The suit says Phillips regularly wrote unauthorized hall passes that allowed the girl to miss or be late for class so they could spend time alone. School policy allows only teachers – not aides – to write such passes, but six different teachers honored them and none reported Phillips’ misuse of them, the suit says. An A-student in English, the plaintiff missed 20 English classes (!) from January 2017 to April 2017, began turning in late assignments and her grades fell, but the suit alleges that her English teacher never questioned her absences or talked to her parents about them.
- That several people who worked in and around the TV studio (all are named in the complaint) knew that Phillips was taking the plaintiff and other minor students off Conestoga property during the day. It also claims that administrators and staff knew about “excessive closed door meetings” between the student and Phillips. A TV studio aide even referred to the student as “Art’s girlfriend” in front of Phillips and two teachers, according to the suit. And a vice principal allegedly saw Phillips pull the plaintiff into an empty classroom – an incident that reportedly made “the hair on the back of his neck stand up” – and did nothing.
- That “multiple” video cameras monitored the bus circle exit – the one Phillips and the plaintiff allegedly used when they left school together because it was near the TV studio – but no one bothered to review the tapes, the suit alleges.
Seeking comment on the lawsuit from the district and the school board, we were referred, as expected, to district solicitor Ken Roos.
He confirmed that the suit was discussed behind closed doors in executive session. It was not, however, mentioned during the public part of the board’s June meeting.
Other things we learned from Roos:
- Principal Meisinger is covered under the district’s liability insurance policy although Roos said he sees “no reason why the principal needed to be named.”
- The “entire matter has been forwarded” to Utica National, the district’s insurance carrier, and “we have every reason to expect it will be covered.” No word yet from Utica. Outside legal advisors tell us that Utica’s coverage decision depends on the policy’s specific terms and whether there are any relevant exclusions. A giant question mark: the impact on taxpayers if coverage is declined.
- Roos affirmed that “no one from the district administration had any knowledge of an improper relationship.”
- The district is “constantly re-evaluating its policies” relevant to sexual abuse allegations. He mentioned a newly revised adult-student “best practices” policy enacted in February 2017.
- The district has “extensive amounts of video surveillance” but Roos wouldn’t comment on how often it is reviewed or what its review policy might be.
What happens next?
Lots of behind-the-scenes “discovery,” aka lawyers collecting evidence, requesting documents and taking depositions. No doubt that witness list will include more a dozen Stoga staffers.
Then each side shows its hand to the other and the case is either settled or goes to trial.
On the criminal side, Arthur Phillips will certainly have his day in court. Chester County DA Tom Hogan tells SAVVY that no trial date has been set but that “most criminal cases in Chester County reach a resolution in 6 to 12 months, depending on defense motions and other factors.”
Summertime – and the livin’s not easy in T/E.
Not easy at all.
Chic Tredici an early hit in Bryn Mawr Village
If Greg Dodge builds it, they will come.
The Gladwyne restaurateur proved he’s got the golden touch, opening his third Tredici to buzzy crowds and jammed phone lines.
And the outside sign isn’t even up yet.
(Technically, this one’s called Enoteca Tredici to avoid confusion with the Italian takeout market in Wayne.)
It’s his first venture into the burbs and “one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” Greg tells SAVVY.
“The Main Line’s the Bermuda Triangle for restaurants,” he says. “No one except Marty Grims’ [White Dog Cafes, Autograph] has a real track record of success here. West of Radnor does OK; east of Radnor doesn’t.”
Despite his worries, Greg’s bet the farm here – dropping a boatload on the drop-dead décor.
Many of Tredici’s dramatic flourishes came from his “many travels” to stylish spots on the West Coast – showstoppers like the giant half-buoy chandeliers
and the curved-wood shelving and booths.
Closer to home, Greg says the bar at nearby Estia inspired him to put Tredici’s bar in the center of the action, too. “You can see the energy from every seat in the house.” (Don’t even try moving those hefty bar stools that cost well over $1,000 each.)
As for his design partners, he calls Boxwood Architects “the best restaurant architects on the East Coast.”
Foodwise, Greg tells us he’s aiming for broad (if not inexpensive) appeal: raw bar/charcuterie and small plates for the cocktail crowd; flatbread pizzas ($15-$17), pasta ($16-$20) and salads ($14–$15) for families; larger plates ($19-$29) and a “very impressive wine program” for fine diners.
The menu is a mix of Mediterranean hits from Tredici and Zavino, Dodge’s other downtown brand. The service bar was slammed during our opening weekend visit but the kitchen was already clicking, pumping out plate after plate, hot and fast.
Among the standouts:
- The roasted cauliflower $10), veal meatballs ($13), crab pasta ($20), arctic char ($29) and flat-iron chicken ($22). Next time we’ll try the broccoli & avocado.
- The summery but not-too-sweet Papi Collins, made with local Revivalist gin, Prosecco and thyme, and expertly mixed by Pabla (whom you may recognize from stints at Savona and Paramour).
- The no-need-to-commit wine list. Half-glass pours? Pure genius.
Because of the Village’s notorious daytime parking problems, there’s free valet parking nightly, at least for now.
Lunch is off the table but that may change. “If I can figure out how to park people, I’d absolutely open during the day,” Greg says.
Next up: Sunday brunch. Saturday brunch is less certain because of parking.
Alas, there’s no patio, but the front room’s walls roll back in nice weather, offering fresh breezes – and a nice view of the Beamers and Benzes in the lot.
Enoteca Tredici, 915 W. Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr Village, 484-381-0268, opens nightly at 4. (Closed Mondays until mid-July.) Reservations suggested. Private dining for 30.
No Maloney’s? No Erin’s? Nova Nation crying in its beer
Two longtime dive bars are about to go dark in Bryn Mawr.
Erin Pub is closing after 40-year run on Lancaster Ave. The building’s been sold. And two doors down, Maloney’s Pub is also calling it quits after 15 years.
Cue the happy dance over at The Grog and Kelly’s.
Multiple sources around town tell us that Maloney’s may have incurred one too many underage violations with the LCB. (Repeated efforts to confirm our intel with Mike and Sean Maloney went nowhere.)
Facebook friends are forlorn – hundreds of posts talk about meeting their spouses and downing their first legal drinks at the bars.
Last call is just days away. Erin’s last night is Friday, June 30; Maloney’s is Saturday, July 1.
Can’t get there this weekend? Order a memorial Maloney’s t-shirt online. In typical bare-bones fashion, the back reads: “I had a good time.” 2002- 2017.
School for grades Pre-K to 12 to open at St. Monica’s
Well, whaddayaknow? Catholic school uniforms are making a comeback in Berwyn.
Five years after the Archdiocesan school moved out of St. Monica’s, a private school is moving in.
Regina Luminis Academy, aka RLA, will begin providing a “classical Catholic” education to boys and girls in Pre-K through high school this fall.
No Junie B. Jones or Diaries of Wimpy Kids here. Latin and Greek are taught in the early grades. There’s weekly Mass and Adoration and teachers use the Socratic method with an emphasis on recitation and declaration of the classics.
Classes are small, with two grades often combined in one classroom, e.g. grades 1 &2, 3 & 4, etc.
After eight years in Downingtown and one in W. Norriton (where enrollment sagged), RLA is excited to shorten commutes for many of its families.
Since the last uniformed kiddos left St. Monica’s in June 2012, the building has had two tenants: an early-childhood center and, more recently, a school for children with emotional needs, Green Valley Academy.
RLA signed on for three years.
Extolling its “robust academic curriculum” and “strong Catholic emphasis,” St. Monica’s pastor, Rev. Charles Zlock tells SAVVY he’s delighted. “We anticipate a warm welcome by our parishioners who will probably enjoy seeing Catholic school uniforms on the St. Monica campus again.”
Regina Luminis Academy at the Church of St. Monica, 610-269-3906, is enrolling students for the fall. Tuition is $3,800 – $6,800 with sibling discounts and EITC and OSTC scholarships available.
Uniquely healing, Hummingbird Yoga buzzes into Bryn Mawr
After four years in Ardmore, Hummingbird Yoga and Massage has flown the coup, opening in much larger digs in Haverford, across from Sporting Club of the Main Line.
The extra rooms allow for a wider ranger of offerings, in addition to the studio’s signature Recovery Yoga classes, says owner Linda Geraghty.
Recovery yoga helps folks fighting trauma or addictions – to drugs, gambling, drinking, food, even bad relationships – reconnect with themselves.
“Addiction is a disconnect; a separation from self. It’s anytime you reach outside yourself over and over again with a negative result,” Linda tells SAVVY. “Yoga is a connector. It teaches you to reach inward to find joy, instead of looking for an outside source of happiness.”
Linda herself has had a front-row seat to addiction – she recently lost her mother to anorexia and her 28-year-old daughter’s has been struggling with addiction to heroin and other drugs since her teens.
When she became certified to teach yoga, Linda says she knew that she “would do something to help people in recovery some day.”
A timely mission if there ever was one.
Hummingbird Yoga and Massage, 940 Haverford Rd. Bryn Mawr, 610-955-3328.
Quick hits around town
***Vic’s Sushi To Go opened June 14 in Rosemont near Pizza Hut and Insomnia Cookies. Haven’t tried it yet, but its original Spring House location gets raves.
***That was quick. The fashion boutique Scout & Molly’s across from the Bryn Mawr Film Institute is closing after just nine months. Leaving yet another hole in downtown Bryn Mawr.
***Barbacoa just ended a 5-year run on Rittenhouse Place in Ardmore. The Peruvian-chicken-on-a-spit joint will be resurrected as “Shack in the Back” near the Ardmore Music Hall later this year.
***The Fat Ham at the King of Prussia Mall is no more. “Top Chef” winner Kevin Sbraga’s little restaurant empire apparently got way too fat, way too fast, and keeled over. Sadly, even his car was repossessed, reports the Inky’s Michael Klein, forcing the celebrity chef to take the bus home from KOP a couple weeks ago.
In less than five years, Sbraga, 38, opened and closed five restaruants: the high-end Sbraga at Broad and Pine, Juniper Commons at Broad and South, Fat Hams in University City and KOP, and Sbraga & Co. in Florida.
***There’s a new café in Devon – well, at least its name is new. Surrey Services for Seniors just cut the ribbon on Jeanne’s Place. Surrey’s popular in-house lunch spot was renamed in honor of the organization’s founder and longtime leader Jeanne La Rouche.
* Ride on, Betsy. A bench outside the cycling studio at the Upper Main Line Y was just dedicated to spinning instructor Betsy Bartos, whose sudden death at age 57 rocked the Y community last fall. An elite athlete, killer cook and loving mom/grandmom, Betsy will long be remembered for her bright smile and warm heart.
And finally, straight talk on straight teeth… from SAVVY sponsor Devon Orthodontics
Bracing news, folks: not all orthodontists are created equal.
Who you hire to twist your wires matters.
That’s assuming, of course, that you want your relationship with your orthodontist to be as short and sweet as possible. (And who doesn’t?)
Things like technology, technique and materials can mean the difference between 18 months in treatment and say, three years.
“Our office strives to offer the best possible customer service as well as using the latest in technology. Some offices are still old-fashioned,” says Dr. Antonino Secchi of Devon Orthodontics, whose cheerful headquarters near the horse show is anything but. “Technology and equipment change continuously and it is important to keep up with those changes.”
Highly credentialed, Dr. Secchi is a board-certified orthodontist who received his DMD (Certificate in Orthodontics and a master’s in oral biology) at U Penn where he was a clinical professor for many years. He also developed a complete clinical system that he teaches to orthodontists across the country and around the globe.
“Getting braces is a thoughtful decision; you want the best technology and support. Quality matters,” says Carla Meell, marketing director for Devon Orthodontics. Dr. Secchi uses “high-end brackets” that, combined with his precise technique for applying and adjusting them, can cut time in braces by several months, she says.
The wires Dr. Secchi uses are less rigid, too, so patients need fewer adjustments – typically every 6 to 8 weeks (or longer in some cases), instead of the 3 or 4 weeks older technology requires.
Oh, and you won’t have to wait around forever. The office prides itself on timely service and prompt adjustments. Young folks are treated in a high-energy, open “bay”; adults are seen in private rooms.
More straight talk and tips from Devon Orthodontics:
- You’re never too old to get your teeth aligned. Dr. Secchi has treated patients over age 80.
- Ignore an overbite or underbite at your own risk. A correct bite makes teeth easier to clean, might prevent painful TMD, and keeps you looking younger. (Yup – a bad bite can cause wrinkles around the lips.)
- Retainers are FOREVER. Stop wearing them and you risk another round of braces.
- While some general dentists offer clear aligners, the smarter choice is a board-certified orthodontist.
- If you suspect your child needs an orthodontist (crowded or misaligned teeth, an abnormal bite, mouth breathing, etc.), schedule an evaluation at around age 7.
Devon Orthodontics, 229 W Lancaster Ave., 484-580-8050, offers metal, ceramic, clear and self-ligating braces and Invisalign, along with bite and jaw correction. Smile Club rewards, patient referral raffles, free initial consults with complimentary x-rays as needed. Saturday appts. Credit cards accepted. Flexible, no-interest, in-house payment plans.
Like what we did for Devon Orthodontics?
We can make some (happy) noise for your business, too. SAVVY readers are your customers! Email [email protected] or [email protected] for our sponsorship and advertising rates. P.S. They’re nice ‘n reasonable 🙂