'Sexting' suit faults superintendent at Shamokin Area
A federal lawsuit blames the superintendent of Shamokin Area School District for failing to discipline his nephew when he allegedly learned the now former substitute teacher had been sending sexually explicit messages to a teenage student.
It is alleged that others in the district also became aware, including a teacher and a school board member, both unidentified in the lawsuit, but failed to take any action.
Police would later identify four victims in the case. Three of them are involved in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday.
The plaintiffs' initials are listed in the suit, but not their names, since they were between the ages of 15 and 17 in the summer and fall of 2011 when Michael S. Zack allegedly sent them thousands of graphic messages through text, email and chat.
"As a result of the school district's indifference to Zack's inappropriate sexual behavior, he continued to have access to (the plaintiffs) and was allowed to teach their classes, and persisted in bombarding the girls with sexually inappropriate text messages and pornographic photographs for months, until he was finally arrested in mid-November 2011," the lawsuit states.
A jury trial is sought, along with an unspecified amount of damages and attorneys' fees and costs.
Zack, now 26, of Marion Heights, was fired by the school board in December 2011 retroactive to his November arrest. Charges followed three months later. 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.
Reached Wednesday, Superintendent James Zack said he was unaware of the lawsuit. He referred comment to the district's solicitor, James Zurick, who said the district would respond after the lawsuit had been reviewed in full. School board President Ronald McElwee also was unaware and declined comment.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Benjamin Andreozzi, of Andreozzi and Associates, Harrisburg, was out of the office Wednesday and did not return a message seeking comment.
The lawsuit claims the plaintiffs' civil rights were violated, saying Shamokin Area had deliberate indifference to a sexually hostile educational environment.
Confronted, but ...
Michael Zack had already initiated a digital relationship with a 15-year-old Shamokin Area student when he was hired in August 2011, the lawsuit claims. It says he was confronted by his uncle in either late August or early September 2011.
"Superintendent (James) Zack confronted (Michael) Zack about his inappropriate contact with female high school students ... but failed to discipline Zack, investigate the allegations or otherwise remedy the harassment," the lawsuit states.
Michael Zack was a substitute for all three plaintiffs, two of whom he met after he was hired. It's claimed he flirted with the underage students and sent them thousands of messages and images, many during school hours.
By mid-October 2011, it is alleged that district employees became aware of the allegations. They either failed to take action or, if reports were made to James Zack, the superintendent failed to act himself, according to the suit.