A former Rochester Area school teacher who says she revealed fraudulent student grade changes is alleging the district ultimately retaliated against her by having her criminally prosecuted.
Charissa Daman, 41, through her Pittsburgh attorney Joseph Pometto filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Beaver County Court accusing district officials of violating the state’s Whistleblower Act and her First Amendment rights.
The district is promising a robust defense against the litigation.
Daman alleges that in February 2018 she discovered a guidance counselor made improper inflated grade changes on specific tests and overall class grades for at least a dozen students in an online course system.
She also alleges she told another teacher about the issue, and also told two school board members, Dennis Iannini and George Bauer.
To Daman’s knowledge no action was taken against the counselor. But in June 2018, Daman alleges Superintendent Jane Bovalino retaliated against her by banning her from using the online course system.
Daman claims her laptop was taken away and she was given a different kind of laptop that was a downgrade in capability and made it harder for her to perform her duties.
Now living in Franklin, Tenn., Daman resigned her high school science/art full-time position on Dec. 21, allegedly after the superintendent told her she’d be recommending to the board that Daman be fired.
Dec. 21 was also the day that district officials called police to Daman’s classroom, claiming she directed students to vandalize the room. Rochester Township police charged her on Feb. 1 with soliciting students to rip up floor tile.
Daman’s suit claims that the tile was peeling and a long-time hazard, causing students to slip and fall as well as to peel it up on their own. She claims she had reported it to officials multiple times.
Daman’s suit accuses district officials of not pressing the criminal case against her until more than a month later because they were retaliating in response to her filing for unemployment compensation.
“For the school district to resort to criminal charges against Mrs. Daman in a situation like this is extremely disturbing. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that the police were contacted on, or about, December 20th, but the school district took no steps to file the charges immediately after the incident was reported,” her suit reads.
“Rochester SD likely only decided to move forward with the charges after Mrs. Daman filed for unemployment on January 13, 2019.”
In April, Daman entered the court’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for nonviolent offenders with no previous convictions, according to court dockets. Successful program completion can result in having her record expunged. Daman admitted no wrongdoing upon entering the program which is not considered a conviction by the courts.
Daman paid a total of $4,051.55 in case costs, including $2,500 in district restitution.
“Up and until 2018, Mrs. Daman was an exemplary teacher at Rochester SD, excelling in both academic and athletic ventures,” her lawsuit reads. “Unfortunately, in 2018, due to Mrs. Daman’s reporting of wrongdoing, Rochester SD began treating Mrs. Daman in an unfair and retaliatory manner.”
The suit names as defendants Rochester Area School District, the school board, Bovalino and high school Principal Michael Damon. Daman is seeking unspecified monetary damages.
District Solicitor Garen Fedeles told BeaverCountian.com the school intends to engage in a full defense against the litigation.
“It has been turned over to the insurance carrier for the district who has assigned legal counsel,” he said.
“The district plans to vigorously fight the lawsuit. As this case is pending, there is no further comment at this time.”
BeaverCountian.com investigative reporter John Paul contributed to this report