Crowd of parents supports Hillendale Elementary in wake of lawsuit
● By J. Chambless
The Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board.
By John Chambless
Usually, school PTOs quietly struggle with nothing more significant than finding volunteers and getting more money from fundraisers. But on July 20, a member of the Hillendale Elementary School PTO launched a lawsuit that is having far-reaching repurcussions.
At the Sept. 19 meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board, every seat was taken by Hillendale parents who came to voice their support for Hillendale principal Steve Dissinger, PTO co-president Jennifer Scattolino, and the school's PTO itself.
The lawsuit, filed in Chester County Common Pleas Court by Kathleen Carmody of Chadds Ford, alleges a long list of accusations against Dissinger, saying that he manipulated the membership of the PTO as a “Wizard of Oz behind the curtain,” that he accepted gifts such as valuable sports tickets from the PTO that were funded by donations intended to go to students, that he ignored bullying incidents at the school, and that he “threatened parents in an inappropriate and abusive manner.”
Carmody, who has children at Hillendale, also alleges that the by-laws of the PTO are faulty, that she was illegally ousted from her position as co-vice president by a “board-packing conspiracy” orchestrated by Dissinger and Scattolino, and that credit for her securing a $30,000 grant from the Dockstader Foundation for the Hillendale Trail Project was sidelined when Dissinger signed a document accepting the grant.
The lawsuit seeks a new election for the PTO board, since “Kathleen is the only remaining valid member of the board for the 2015-2016 term and no valid appointments or elections have been made for the 2016-2017 term,” the suit reads. It also seeks to oust Dissinger and Scattolino from having any input in the PTO. “Dissinger has committed a series of egregious, illegal, abusive and malicious acts in connection with the allegations set forth, and Defendant Scattolino acted in an illegal, unauthorized and/or unethical manner in connection with the Board-Packing Conspiracy and related actions,” the suit reads.
Carmody specifies that she wants Dissinger and Scattolino, and not the PTO, to pay her court and related costs. She intends to donate any of that money back to the PTO if it is reorganized under new by-laws.
At the board meeting, one former Hillendale parent presented a list of 220 names of school families “who overwhelmingly support Steve Dissinger and the Hillendale PTO,” she said. “For those of us who have given countless hours to ensure our Hillendale community thrives, we find Kathleen Carmody's lawsuit is frivolous, self-serving and totally detrimental to the health and spirit of happy Hillendale. ... This suit poses a threat to the Hillendale PTO. Its success is based totally on parent volunteers, as we all know. Few parents will be willing to get involved if faced with the threat of legal action. After reading the ridiculous claims in this lawsuit, I speak for all of us in asking Kathleen to consider the amount of money, energy and time that our school community will waste in defense of this nonsense. We hope that after realizing the position of the overwhelming majority of the Hillendale community, she will withdraw her lawsuit and recant her erroneous claims against Steve. However, if this does not occur, we implore you, the board, to continue to support Mr. Dissinger and Hillendale and the PTO and do not back down from this bully.”
She finished her comments to sustained applause from the audience.
Shannon Albert, who is serving as Hillendale PTO co-president with Scattolino, said, “I'm here to address the repurcussions of this suit to our PTOs and our members. Our PTOs contribute significantly to our schools. … In a meeting last week with some of the other PTO presidents, it was estimated that we have spent roughly $400,000 over the last five years, just in enrichment grants. What is the fallout from this suit? Those of us who volunteer regularly know that it is difficult to convince people to use their free time to volunteer. And now to find that we can be accused of wrongdoing is scary. All of us fear that our volunteer pool will shrink, and perhaps even our fundraising efforts will suffer. I ask you to take this situation seriously.”
School district superintendent John Sanville responded on behalf of the administration that, “After reviewing the complaint in great detail, we find the allegations to be without merit. The good name of an exemplary principal is at stake, along with PTO volunteers and a PTO president. Steve Dissinger is a man of the utmost integrity. He is respected by his peers, beloved by a community that he serves, and his record of excellence stands as an unimpeachable testament to the quality of his character.”
After some applause, Sanville added, “The administration and the board strongly support and defend Steve in this matter, and we also strongly defend the Hillendale PTO and volunteers, and Jennifer Scattolino. … Courts are not the proper place to resolve issues between volunteers. It is unfortunate that the taxpayers of this district have to pay to defend a dispute of this nature, nor is it in the best interest of our students that the district administration and its volunteers are distracted by having to defend what is clearly without merit. I am hopeful that, in the very near future, this will be in our rear view as we move forward.”
Board president Victor Dupuis, speaking for the board, told the audience, “You can count on the support of the board in this” as the audience again applauded.
An arbitration date for the lawsuit has been scheduled for Jan. 27, 2017.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.