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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Allentown's Pied Piper Guilty on Three Truancy Charges

Both sides can claim a win. Both sides must admit defeat. After listening to a day of testimony that included seven Allentown School District principals and its operations officer, Magisterial District Judge Karen Devine found former teacher Michael Frassetto guilty of three counts of corrupting the morals of minors for his role in inciting a student walkout in Allentown last year. The Allentown School District has made the point that there's no such thing as a constitutional right to cut class. But Frassetto dodged a conviction on 142 citations. He was fined $100 on each of three counts instead of $14,500.

Let me start by telling you that this is not the typical corruption case, in which someone plies a minor with alcohol or drugs for nefarious purposes. In the context of this prosecution "Any person who knowingly aids, abets, entices or encourages a minor younger than 18 years of age to commit truancy commits a summary offense." It's called corruption of minors, but should be called truancy.

Ed DeGrace so vulgar in morning session
that Frassetto supporters asked him to be quiet.
He failed to return in the afternoon.
Divining Judge Devine

Judge Devine, with a face that was almost always smiling, noted that there is no defense of justification. In other words, it makes no difference why Frassetto wanted kids to cut class. If he knowingly encouraged the walkout, he committed a summary offense.    

Devine's courtroom, if you can call it that, is in the basement of the old Lehigh County Courthouse. It's a tiny room with a table and a hodgepodge of chairs. About 25 people crammed inside an unassuming room that included a fascinating assortment of decorations. On one wall hangs an old Ringling Brothers circus poster, which made me wonder if that is her commentary on the judicial system. There was also a mannequin head sitting atop a credenza, with a British barrister's white powdered wig. There were also some 40 year-old political ads and, here and there, small vases of artificial flowers. But the pièce de résistance would have to be her judicial robes, hanging on a wall.

All judges, even mini-judges, are required to wear judicial robes. But as Judge Devine pointed out, no one has insisted that they be any particular color. So Judge Devine has three robes. Yesterday's color was merlot, she said. I also noticed a more bluish robe and the traditional black.

Based on the courtroom and its decorations, it's hard to divine Judge Devine. She certainly appeared to be her own thinker.

Frassetto has taken a break from teaching
The prosecution
The principals at Allentown's three high schools and four middle schools all testified.Operations officer David Wildonger saw Frassetto at William Allen on 9/28 and 9/29, and could hear him on a bullhorn telling students they would get in no trouble for leaving. He had Facebook excerpts and even a video, but Judge Devine refused to accept the social media because she was unsure if it was really Frassetto. The video was definitely him, but she did not know if he posted it.

Another weakness is that students who had agreed to testify suddenly got cold feet. Finally, nothing directly tied Frassetto to the middle schools or Building 21.

* William Allen (3,000 students) - Principal Luke Shafnisky witnesses the walkouts that occurred on September 28 and 29, 2015.Altogether, 186 students participated. On the first day, they walked out after the second period. He could see Frassetto on the first day, exhorting students with a bullhorn. Some of them spilled ot intto the streets. On the second day, they sat on steps, which made it difficult for students who wanted to go to class. Students were booed as they walked in and the situation was "ripe for conflict."

Shafnisky spoke about the walkout with Frassetto several days before it occurred. He argued that the "best and safest place was in school, so children could receive their education and stay safe."

After the walkouts, Safinsky notified parents immediately, and some of them brought their truant children back..

* Dieruff (1,800 students). - Principal Susan Bacian said that on the first day of the walkout (9/28) she could see a group of about 20 young adults approach the school . A woman was speaking into a bullhorn, encouraging children to leave. About 50 students walked out that first day.  Teachers stood by the exits, asking students to remain.

She never saw Frassetto at the walkouts but did see him at a football game,handing out fliers that encouraged kids to leave.

* Building 21 (140 students) - Principal Jeanine Mathesz said 22 of her students walked out, and she called the parents of every one of them. "We're responsible for those students, even if they leave the building," she explained.Some of the parents brought their children back to school. She conducted town halls prior to the walkout, but they were lured by the promise of Chinese food. She never saw Frassetto.

* South Mountain Middle School (990 students) - Principal Frank Derrick, who has some students who are only nine years old, testified that 47 students participated in the walkout  He had people posted around the school, took the name of each student who left, and contacted parents. "A lot of them said they wanted Chinese food," he explained. He never saw Frassetto.

This lino was taking kids from Raub Middle School
* Raub Middle School (860 students) - Principal Susan Elliott said things were "very chaotic" on the day of the walkout as kids poured into the hallway. She testified 40 of her students participated in the walkout, mostly on the first day. They were lured by Chinese food the first day, and double cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets the second. She contacted each parent, and some of them returned with their children. She did not see Frassetto at her school, nor did she see his handouts. She saw several students hop into a limousine.

* Trexler Middle School (840 students) - Principal Christine Piripabel said 31 students walked out the first day, followed by four on the second and none on the third. She did not see Frassetto at her school.

* Harrison Morton Middle School (812 students) - Principal Daria Custer said that 33 of her students participated in the walkout. She never saw Frassetto, but did see handouts in student lockers.

Frassetto's Defense

When Frassetto testified, he had a 14 page manifesto entitled "Recent Failures of Allentown School District Encouraged Peaceful Protest." In it, he explains that lousy test scores, low graduation rates, a lack of staff diversity, discrimination against minority administrators, mismanagement of school funds, sexual assaults and student abuse are what led to the walkouts.

None of those reasons matter to Judge Devine, who pointered out several times that it makes nio difference why students are encouraged to leave school.

Frassetto portrayed himself as only one of many participants in organizing the walkout. He indicated he was encouraged by three lehigh professors, three Kutztown University professors as well as the sororities and fraternities of the local colleges.

"Do you think students have a First Amendment right to express themselves by walking out of school in the middle of the day?" asked Freund.


He said he was prepared to accept the consequences for his actions, just like Mandela, Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

Asteak double-teamed. 

Asteak is also a farmer
Though Judge Devine occasionally had to separate them, it was a pleasure to watch legal warriors Jonathan M. Huerta and John E. Freund III double team prominent criminal defense lawyer Gary Asteak. They presented a thorough case that included video from Frassetto, his Facebook excerpts, photographs and attendance sheets at seven different schools. Huerta acted as lead counsel, but it was Freund who coaxed Frassetto into admitting his criminal behavior during cross-examination.

With his Stetson on the table and his blue-colored glasses put away, Asteak was on the attack from the beginning to end. He probably set the Guinness record for most hearsay objections in one day, but amazingly, most of them were sustained. After one of these minor victories, Asteak asked that the testimony be "stricken from the record."

"We're not a court of record," answered Judge Devine.

"Then strike it from your memory," said Asteak.

Though there was absolutely nothing in the record to back him up, Asteak repeatedly insisted that the student walkout was forced on students because the school board had locked them out of a meeting and refused to listen to them.

"Mr. Asteak has done more testifying in this case than the witnesses," complained Freund.

'There's no First Amendment right to shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre,' argued Huerta.

"Is it OK to shout 'Fire' in a theatre that is on fire?" asked Asteak. "This school district is on fire and the kids have a right to throw some water on it."
"Mr. Frassetto will proudly wear the badge of criminal for giving the kids the right to speak up. These are Latinos, young men and women of color, who are being repressed. Is it criminal to seek help, to raise your voice?"
Huerta, who is a Latino and said he struggled to make it, countered there is no first amendment right to crate a substantial disruption.
"At the end of the day, this is about students who want a better education. There's a way to make it, a way to do it, but it's not in the middle of a school day."
Asteak mispronounced the name of one school district witness several times while Freund repeatedly mispronounced Frassetto's name. Each accused the other of playing rhetorical tricks and trying to annoy the witness by constantly butchering his name. .

I asked them both whether they were playing games after the hearing, and they both responded, "I don't know what you're talking about, O'Hara."

The verdict.

Judge Divine found Frassetto guilty on three counts for the two days at William Allen, where he was observed and one day at Deiruff, where he was spotted handing out flyers. Because nothing tied him directly to the middle schools or Building 21, she dismissed those charges.

Frassetto was only convicted on three counts of a summary offense, the legal equivalent of a parking ticket. Could This could affect his teaching certificate, but that seems unlikely.

Updated 3:40 pm: Who is Ed DeGrace (Disgrace)? - He's a Fed Ed goon I first caught here in 2008, posting attacks under an assumed name. He's responsible for laundering an $8,000 contribution to Fed Ed from a third party through Latinos for a New Lehigh Valley PAC, and then failing to file a finance report that would identify this contributor.

He remains a Fed Ed cheerleader.
"Hey Ed, you can count me among the cheerleaders. Allentown has come a long way and you've had your hands and your heart in her rebirth since ABC, DEDC- Allentown, etc. My beef is with ASD and we have a long way to go in the areas of education, income disparity and minority engagement toward building the new but, I'm sure you're aware of these continuing battles. Maybe some of the naysayers should consider running for Mayor, against you and your record. Statistics show that even a generic, recalcitrant, yelping opponent could muster 35%. Good job Ed. Still much to do but, keep building the new."

He attempted to muzzle me at a Kevin Dougherty rally last year, but failed.


Anonymous said...

Mighty fine article in fitting with the situation, I especially loved your attention paid to the picture depicting an advert is mentalists circus arena agenda as a whole separated by nothing because the local third world nation unto itself is representational of the state?!($
Did the court room have the smells of a colourful carnival and could you hear the enchanting music of the monkey crank box throughout the halls upon entrance?!($
RE:publican redd

Not a robot said...

"This could affect his teaching certificate, but that seems unlikely."

I think that it will be very difficult for this guy to find employment as a teacher. One of the first things an employer does before even deciding to interview someone is to do a Google search in the applicant's name. Guess what comes up when you search this guy's name...

Jamie Kelton said...

Mr Frassetto will have a difficult time getting another teaching job. Although he may have his certificate intact, the circumstances of his dismissal will haunt him in the teaching profession.

Given the limited number of available teaching positions available due to budgetary issues, I suspect this man should consider a new career, or perhaps move to another state where teaching positions may be needed in hard-to-place schools; perhaps Harlem, Watts, or on some Indian Reservation in New Mexico where few questions are asked applicants.

Nevertheless, this incident is now over, punishment meted out, and the world turns.

Scott Armstrong said...

I agree, I have to think his teaching days, at least at public schools are over. However, he does perhaps have a future as a car salesman.

Anonymous said...

My God what a waste of courtroom time and taxpayer money. There's a reason most people despise teachers and lawyers.

Dave said...

A courtroom is supposed to have a sense of formality. This is where, as a defendant, you are being held accountable if you have broken the law, or found not guilty if you have not. There is a decorum with the judge wearing a robe, a bench, and the other aspects of justice.

Having reported for jury duty four times in my life, and attending traffic court twice for speeding, this is what you expect a court to be.

What Bernie describes is a joke. Perhaps there is a space issue in Lehigh County Courthouse where a storeroom is being used with some chairs found around the building, but the description of the judge makes this just look bad.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That was hardly my intention. I believe she has made the best of a bad situation. I was very impressed.

the other Ron said...

Bernie, why did Judge Devine find that leafletting at a football game was not protected by the First Amendment?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Because he was leafleting to entice children to cut classes. That is not protected speech.

Anonymous said...

The scrub got off easy. But he is forever stigmatized as a clueless, self-promoting charlatan. Good luck getting hired as a teacher again!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have very little respect for him. I could see it if he was more forthcoming, but he tried to minimize his role and even ran away from his Facebook comments and the video. His claim that others were posting under his name is unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding article and description of the proceedings. You weren't sleeping through this one. You made the reader feel like they were there. I particularly liked the vision of the judge in a merlot-colored robe, and particularly disliked the picture of that crazed looking individual with the olive complexion.

Anonymous said...

"One of the first things an employer does before even deciding to interview someone is to do a Google search in the applicant's name."

Just ask one of Bernie's detractors about this principle. She couldn't get a job selling frankfurters off a food wagon...

Anonymous said...

Will there be any proceedings against this teacher's friend and accomplice, Nate Whimps?

Anonymous said...

is this the same kid that King Edwin gave money to for some type of group study?

Anonymous said...
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Jamie Kelton said...

I'm lost. Who is Mr DeGrace ?

I see his photo in the article that Mr O'Hare has written but it doesn't say whom he is or what his connection to Mr Frassetto is?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Jamie, I will update this post with an answer to your question.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'll do it for you, he is the organ grinder with the monkey on a leash at the carnival?!($
RE:publican redd

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

If Ed DeGrace is such a bad guy do you really think the POPE would meet with him?


Bernie O'Hare said...

I can post a picture of myself with a Pope cutout, too. in the end, DisGrace is a dishonest goon who should confess and tell us who really donated $8,000 to Fed Ed in 2005.

Jamie Kelton said...

First, I must apologize Mr O'Hare for asking you about the man in question. I took the liberty of googling his name and read some disturbing articles about him. Plus I read your comments that you kindly added to the article. He appears to be both a criminal and also a disruptor of the Allentown School District.

Both my husband and myself are involved in our daughter's education to a great extent. We both have graduate degrees from universities in the Philadelphia area and can help her with her studies. She knows the value of a good education because we instill in her a sense of responsibility and pride in doing well in class. We hope that when she finishes high school she will apply to one of the universities we attended or perhaps one of the service academies, any of which will provide her a fine education and open up choices for her in her life that others will not have.

The man in question here also appears to be a colleague of Mr. Frassetto, who uses school children in the pursuit of some obscure political or social agenda, to the detriment of the students whom he persuades to join him; i.e., the Pied Piper of Hamlin analogy you used as an illustration. Teenagers especially are vulnerable to these types of social leeches and Mr Frassetto was rightly charged and convicted of criminal activity. One can believe this other man, along with the dubious political shenanigans he may be involved in is a bird of the same feather.

Again, thank you for the information you posted and also apologies for raising his name. Also, enjoy your evening and I hope to read your column here tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Judge Devine is one of my favorite MDJs to go in front of.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Hank, I had a brief opportunity to speak to her after the hearing, when she snuck outside as I was trying to remember where I parked in the big city. She is very down-to-earth.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

Sign your name.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Did you notice that the "Ringling Bros" image depicted a Kangaroo court?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.