RUNNEMEDE, N.J. (AP) -- A student at Triton High School went to Principal Catherine DePaul six months ago with a disturbing story: She believed another student was involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher, and she had seen explicit text messages the two exchanged.
At that moment, prosecutors say, a cover-up was put in motion that unraveled Thursday when DePaul, an assistant principal and three teachers were charged with offenses ranging from child endangerment to sexual assault and official misconduct.
The teachers -- all men in their late 20s or early 30s -- are accused of striking up relationships with female students during the 2011-2012 school year. Each of the five adults has been suspended from the school in the Philadelphia suburb of Runnemede, and each could face at least five years in prison if convicted.
Sexual relationships between teachers and students are not unheard of. Camden County prosecutor Warren Faulk noted that the media seem particularly fixated on the female teacher-male student cases that are reported around the country each year.
But what distinguished the allegations at Triton High was the inaction by administrators who ignored policies and safeguards that were in place and instead allowed a culture "where teachers thought they could get away with improper relationships with their students," Faulk said.
Waiting outside the school Friday for her grandson, Donna Bresnock concurred.
"When these kids go a principal or vice principal, they’re the ones who they’re relying on," she said. "Who do they turn to?"
The defendants either could not be reached or did not return messages left by The Associated Press. All five are due in court Oct. 11.
According to court documents, math teacher Dan Michielli, 27, of Blackwood, had intercourse with a student multiple times during the school year. He is charged with official misconduct, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal sexual conduct.
Gym teacher and boys’ soccer coach Nick Martinelli, 28, of Cherry Hill, is charged with official misconduct involving an 18-year-old. Prosecutors say he touched and kissed the girl when she was a student and had intercourse with her after she graduated in June.
Math teacher and girls’ track coach Jeff Logandro, 32, of Blackwood, is charged with official misconduct, criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. A court filing says he inappropriately touched a female student.
Rape charges cannot be filed because the sex acts were consensual and the girls were old enough to consent under state law, Faulk said.
A student who was not among the alleged victims, told a substitute teacher in April that teachers were "hooking up" with students, authorities say. The sub then told DePaul.
The principal met with the student, who told her she’d been to one of the teacher’s homes with a girl who was involved with him and had seen the explicit text messages, prosecutors say.
DePaul asked her to write an account of what she had heard, and Assistant Principal Jernee Kollock stayed with the student to help her write the statement, even helping her with her grammar -- but also making it seem less serious, authorities allege.
Around the same time, Faulk said, DePaul learned one of the teachers had driven an alleged victim and another student to Ocean City in violation of district policy. But, he said, the teacher was merely reprimanded.
DePaul told her bosses about the teacher driving a student, but prosecutors say she never passed along the claims of sex. Instead, authorities say, she told at least one school employee to delete text-message exchanges with a student from his phone. It’s not clear from court documents who the employee was.
DePaul and Kollock were charged with official misconduct. DePaul later said she wished she had been more concerned for the students than the teachers, Faulk said.
The teachers were suspended last month by the Black Horse Regional School District; the administrators were suspended Thursday. Superintendent John Golden said in a statement that the district was cooperating with authorities, notifying families of students of the allegations and offering counseling.
"In addition, we have initiated a comprehensive review of our existing policies, protocols and training and education materials to prevent this from happening again at this or any district school," the statement said.
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