Dye, Cohlhepp Deny Allegations of Prior Knowledge in Lawsuit
FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – Franklin Area School District Superintendent Pamela Dye and Junior-Senior High School Principal Christina Cohlhepp filed a response Monday in U.S. District Court to allegations that they failed to protect a young girl and created a climate in which former teacher Kyle Askins could “prey upon” her.
The lawsuit was filed March 1 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by attorneys Wayne H. Hundertmark, of Franklin, and Robert Varsek, of Oil City. They are representing the parents of the victim.
Allegations within the suit are centered around an ongoing relationship and “a long course of inappropriate physical contact” between teacher Kyle Askins and a 13-year-old female student during the 2016-2017 school year. Askins is also named in the lawsuit.
In a joint response filed Monday by attorneys Neal R. Devlin and Aurora L. Hardin of Erie-based Knox McLaughlin Gornall & Sennett, both Dye and Cohlhepp denied several allegations stating that “the answering defendants lack sufficient information to determine the truth of these allegations and, therefore, they are denied.”
After pleading guilty in November 2017 to one first-degree felony count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 16 years of age, Askins, of Franklin, was ordered to serve 54 months to a maximum of 20 years in state prison. He is currently incarcerated at SCI Waymart in Wayne County.
Askins was 25-years-old at the time of the incidents and beginning his second year of employment with Franklin Area School District as a health/physical education teacher and coach.
According to the complaint, Askins “interjected himself and assumed the role as a personal confidant for the victim, paying more attention to her under the pretense of providing her emotional support through her grief and bereavement.”
Askins “enticed and solicited (the girl)” to come to his classroom at the beginning of the school day and his separate office both prior to the beginning of, and after, normal school/class hours,” according to the complaint.
It was at this time that Askins “commenced a course of action to sexually abuse and sexually assault” his victim.
In early 2017, the lawsuit says, Askins also engaged in “open, notorious and obvious contact” with (the girl), and engaged in physical contact with her behind his desk during home room on a “near-daily basis,” all on middle school property in the immediate proximity of other students and school faculty.
“By the second half of the 2016-2017 (school year), it became widely known by both the student body and faculty in the Franklin Middle School that Askins and (the girl) shared a mutual affection for each other that exceeded a professional teacher-pupil relationship,” the complaint states.
The response filed Monday states, “the answering defendants deny that Askins engaged in ‘open, notorious and obvious’ contact with the minor plaintiff. After reasonable investigation, the answering defendants lack sufficient information to determine the truth of the remaining allegations and, therefore, they are denied.”
“It is denied that it became widely known by the faculty that Askins and minor plaintiff shared a mutual affection for one another or that their relationship exceeded an appropriate relationship. After reasonable investigation these defendants lack sufficient information to determine the truth of the remaining allegations and, therefore, they are denied,” the response continues.
The response states, “it is specifically denied that the answering defendants were ever aware of any improper contact, touching or other interaction between Askins and minor plaintiff prior to Askin’s arrest. After reasonable investigation, the answering defendants lack sufficient information to determine the truth of the remaining allegations and, therefore, they are denied.”
The response also denies that “representatives of the District possessed knowledge or information prior to May 1, 2017 that would have indicated that they should contact law enforcement.”
Cohlhepp contacted Franklin-based State Police on May 1, 2017, to report the allegations of inappropriate contact.
The plaintiffs in the case are asking a jury to award general and compensatory damages against all named defendants and punitive damages against Askins. Attorneys fees and other related legal costs are also being requested.
The response filed Monday by Dye and Cohlhepp asks the court to dismiss the case.
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