Former Coatesville school officials accused in text scandal

September 23, 2013 8:36:35 PM PDT
For weeks, there's been speculation and mystery surrounding a criminal investigation and the sudden departures of Coatesville Area School superintendent Richard Como and athletic director Jim Donato.

Coatesville Area School District officials have confirmed that the resignations of Como and Donato were submitted after the two were informed that the legal process to fire them was already under way.

In a statement given to Action News, the district also confirmed this is all directly linked to "highly offensive text messages exchanged by the two men on their district phones."

The statement also says, "The racist and sexist language expressed by the two men was sickening and obviously unacceptable."

Como and Donato reportedly sent them in June and made derogatory statements about minorities, repeatedly dropping the N-word.

Action News has learned that an IT employee discovered the messages last month during a phone upgrade and told school board member Dr. Tanya Thames Taylor, who notified the district's legal counsel.

Twelve days later, Superintendent Como announced his retirement after eight years on the job. Donato's resignation soon followed.

High school senior Steven Reid says the saddest part is that he actually saw Como as a role model.

"I looked up to the guy. He did a lot for us and to hear him talk about us like that, how he really felt inside about us, it was just about. It hurt," Reid said.

Como and Donato reportedly exchange the string of racist and sexist texts making references to students and faculty members.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan would not offer any further details, but he did confirm to Action News that those text messages are part of a bigger criminal investigation.

"We are going to run down every single thing that has been reported to us about the school district and there have been a substantial number of issues raised for us to look at," Hogan said.

And while the school board has faced criticism for not yet ratifying Como's and Donato's resignations, board members say they want to make sure this process is handled properly and legally every step of the way.

"We spoke many hours on this situation. I can, unquestionably, we all are here for the children," Dr. Tonya Thames Taylor of the Coatesville Area School Board said.

As a result of this incident, the district plans to provide sensitivity training for all faculty and staff.

But what about the children - especially those who told Action News they've been left disappointed, frustrated and angry.

James Mayo whose 10th grade daughter is juggling academics and cheerleading says he doesn't want her distracted.

"If you allow that to distract you then it takes away from what she has to do," Mayo said.

The district says counselors were on hand to speak with students.

But the head of Temple University's African American Studies program says they'll need more.

"We must first of all give them a strong sense of their own identity and secondly we must also show them that there are some people that they can trust," Asante said.

Professor Asante says this is not an isolated case and everyone in Coatesville, not just minority families, need to talk about race relations. He says it's a conversation community leaders will have also have to start.

"This community conservation about what it means to live in Coatesville and have a sense of respect for your neighbors," Asante said.

Members of the local NAACP met Monday night to come up with an action plan to help with that conversation.

These allegations broke on the day the Coatesville NAACP celebrated its 75th anniversary at Bethel AME Church.

Dr. Taylor happens to also be the local NAACP president. She was here along with elected leaders including Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan who was also tight lipped about his criminal investigation.

"We are going to run down every single thing that has been reported to us about the school district and there have been a substantial number of issues raised for us to look at," said Hagan.

Besides the criminal investigation, the district is also conducting an internal investigation as it searches for a new school leader.

Action News reached out but both Como and Donato, who have not been charged with anything, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, there is a school board meeting slated for Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. at the high school's 9th-10th grade center.


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