CAMDEN, N.J. — Six months ago, a student came to Triton High School Principal Catherine DePaul with a disturbing story: She believed another student was involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher at the school, and she'd seen explicit text messages the two had exchanged.
At that moment, prosecutors say, a cover-up was put in motion that ultimately unraveled Thursday when DePaul, an assistant principal and three teachers were charged with offenses ranging from child endangerment to sexual assault and official misconduct.
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.
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.
Sexual relationships between teachers and students are not unheard of. Camden County prosecutor Warren Faulk noted that the media seems 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," according to Faulk.
"These charges constitute individual personal, moral, legal and ethical failure," Faulk said at a news conference Thursday.
Faulk said rape charges could not be filed because the sex acts were consensual and the girls were 17 or 18 at the time — old enough to consent under state law.
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.