COAL TOWNSHIP - Shamokin Area School District denies that its superintendent had any knowledge of his nephew "sexting" district students before he was fired as a substitute teacher.

Michael Zack was a substitute for all three plaintiffs who filed a federal lawsuit, two of whom he met after he was hired, the plaintiffs claim. He flirted with the underage students in late summer and early fall 2011 and sent them thousands of messages and images - many during school hours - according to police.

"Appropriate officials in the district did not have actual knowledge of Michael Zack's alleged conduct prior to Nov. 15, 2011," the date of his arrest, according to a July 25 legal filing by attorney Jonathan P. Riba of Sweet, Stevens, Katz and Williams LLP, New Britain.

Contacted Thursday, Riba clarified his phrasing of "appropriate officials," saying that no district employee had any knowledge of Zack's sexually graphic messages with teenage females at Shamokin Area.

The plaintiffs say James Zack, superintendent, learned of his nephew's behavior around the time he was hired in August 2011 but took no action. The district denies the allegation.

Shamokin Area was not indifferent to Michael Zack's actions, according to its legal filing. It states he never returned to teach after his arrest and that he was fired retroactively less than one month later.

The district denies that the plaintiffs' civil rights and educational opportunities were infringed upon by the substitute teacher's actions. Also, there were no complaints to the district from anyone, including the plaintiffs, about sext messaging involving Michael Zack prior to his arrest.

"Shamokin Area School District did not create or permit sexual harassment and/or a hostile educational environment," the district's filing states. "The district took reasonable and appropriate steps to remedy any perceived harassment."

It continues, "The plaintiffs cannot establish sexual harassment that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive as to deny plaintiffs' equal access to educational resources and opportunities at the district."

The district's filing also says the "building principal" recommended Michael Zack as a 180-day substitute and that he was not hired as a result of his uncle being superintendent. Chris Venna is principal of the middle-high school.

The plaintiffs filed suit in June using only their initials since they were between the ages of 15 and 17 at the time of the alleged harassment. All three are now adults, according to their lawsuit; Riba said the statute of limitations for the lawsuit has expired.

The plaintiffs blame James Zack for failing to discipline his nephew, and claim that both a teacher and a school board member were aware of Michael Zack's sext messages. The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs' civil rights were violated, saying Shamokin Area had deliberate indifference to a sexually hostile educational environment. A jury trial is sought, along with an unspecified amount of damages and attorneys' fees and costs.

Michael Zack, now 26, of Marion Heights, was charged by police three months after he was fired by the district school board in December 2011. He pleaded guilty to a felony count in December 2012. His original sentence was scuttled within six weeks after police said he violated probation. He was resentenced and served the minimum of a 6 to 23 month stretch in county jail. He also was sentenced to six months house arrest upon release, and almost three consecutive years of parole and probation.