The former Superintendent of the Ambridge Area School District has filed a federal lawsuit against the district and several current and former school officials, detailing a series of alleged incidents over a two-and-a-half year period at the district — including allegations that an Ambridge Police Officer mistreated a disabled student and fears a School Board member was going to bring a gun into the school to shoot her.

Dr. Cynthia Zurchin’s federal complaint lists the Ambridge Area School District, School Board members Robert Keber, Roger Kowal, and Kimberly Locher, former Board member Brian Padgett, and former Assistant Superintendent Megan Mealie, as defendants. Zurchin alleges causes of action including sex discrimination, retaliation, civil rights violations, breach of contract, and wrongful discharge.

Dr. Zurchin alleges her various experiences at the district were so traumatic they caused her to be hospitalized with stroke-like symptoms, and that her long-time doctor subsequently diagnosed her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression, leading to an extended medical leave and ultimately a disability retirement.

Some of the accusations made in Cynthia Zurchin’s 40-page federal complaint are detailed below. The Beaver Countian will report on the defendants’ responses to Zurchin’s allegations when they are filed with the court.

Alleged Mistreatment Of A Student By Ambridge Police

On pages 9 through 12 of her complaint, Cynthia Zurchin described an alleged incident involving an Ambridge Police Officer and a disabled student in the district. Zurchin claims she was retaliated against after filing complaints about the student’s alleged mistreatment:

“By assuming her role as Superintendent of Ambridge SD, Dr. Zurchin took an oath to ensure that all students, regardless of their protected class, would be treated equally and fairly in school. Dr. Zurchin undertook this responsibility seriously consistent with her role and legal obligation. Therefore, when Dr. Zurchin learned that students were being subjected to unfair and discriminatory treatment within the district, she refused to turn a blind eye; she was willing to and was required to be a voice to speak out against the mistreatment.

“In September 2014, Dr. Zurchin became apprised of facts that evidenced the mistreatment and unauthorized restraint of J.H., an African American student with a documented disability.

“On September 15, 2014, School Resource Officer Nate Smith indicated he was responding to a disturbance in the hallway of the high school involving J.H., a special education and minority student. Despite video demonstrating that J.H. clearly was never creating a disturbance necessitating an aggressive response, Smith grabbed the student and restrained him with his arms behind his back, forcibly walked J.H. to the main office, smacked J.H.’s face into a glass window of the office, threw J.H. to the ground in a face down restraint, handcuffed J.H. and called for police backup to transport J.H. to a detention facility.

“Not only does this procedure violate school policy and protocol, after reviewing the video footage, it becomes clear that it was entirely uncalled for given the circumstances. Further, this behavior by Smith substantiated what Dr. Zurchin understood characterized a level of discord between minority and non-minorities within the district, a situation she vehemently opposed.

“Dr. Zurchin appropriately identified the individual that was the subject of discrimination and the protected classes under which he was the subject of discriminatory treatment. Dr. Zurchin also reported the incident to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education as an improper restraint consistent with her obligations required under 22 Pa. Code 14.133.

“Further, Dr. Zurchin, through the school’s solicitor, requested the local police department remove Smith from his role as School Resource Officer due to his violation of the code, noting that the prone restraint he used placed the district at significant risk of sanctions from the Department of Education (‘DOE’). When Dr. Zurchin requested Smith be removed from his role, Defendant Kowal attempted to circumvent the district by going directly to the police chief and indicating that he should not heed Dr. Zurchin’s concerns.

“Due to Defendant Kowal’s persuasion, the police chief permitted a dangerous individual to remain in the district despite warnings that it could expose the school to liability. Due to Defendant Kowal’s persuasion, Ambridge SD allowed an individual evidencing a racial animus toward students to remain on school grounds despite Dr. Zurchin’s opposition and against the advice of the school solicitor.

“This incident followed on the heels of Dr. Zurchin’s suggestion to offer a summer school graduation ceremony which would serve to recognize students with special needs and other struggling students in the district that were able to complete their coursework with an additional few months. This programming was rejected outright by Defendant Locher who stated, ‘Fuck those kids,’ referencing special needs students. This incident further serves to shed light on the several Board members’ animosity to students with disabilities and directed interference with Dr. Zurchin’s attempts to satisfy those student’s needs and rights under the law.

“Despite encouragement from a local official to simply look the other way when it came to these ongoing incidents with board opposition, Dr. Zurchin had a legal obligation to report and participate in any unfair treatment of students and/or staff as a result of discrimination. Dr. Zurchin’s actions resulted in further and continuing efforts by members of the board to force her resignation through an oppressive and retaliatory work environment.”

Fears She May Get Shot By A School Board Member

On pages 7 and 8 of her federal complaint, Dr. Zurchin details an alleged incident involving Brian Padgett, and fears he may show up to the school with a gun:

“On June 12, 2013, at the first official board meeting attended as Superintendent, Dr. Zurchin was threatened with physical violence by Defendant Padgett during an executive session of the school board meeting. During the incident, Defendant Padgett leaned toward Dr. Zurchin and within inches of her face, pointed at her and screamed, ‘You mother fucker, you better watch yourself. I will go after you. You better watch yourself, you mother fucker.’ He also expressed, ‘I will get you.’

“Dr. Zurchin responded that it was not okay for Defendant Padgett to speak to her like this, and she feared for her personal safety due to his proximity, size and language. Defendant Padgett was ultimately subdued by other board members separating Padgett from Zurchin. Notably, Defendant Kowal laughed during the threat and thereafter.

“Other board members witnessed this interaction and reported on it subsequently. Specifically, then-Board President Mary Jo Kehoe stated that Defendant Padgett’s behavior was ‘threatening, intimidating and hostile.’ Then-board member and former police officer Robert Appel characterized it as ‘extremely abusive’ and indicated he heard Defendant Padgett say, ‘You’ll be sorry.’

“Dr. Zurchin filed a police report the next day, and Defendant Padgett was charged with harassment (18 § 2709 §§ A1) and terroristic threats (18 § 2706 §§ A1). Word began circulating during the months while an investigation was pending that Defendant Padgett was going to bring a gun to a future board meeting to shoot Dr. Zurchin. The threat of harm was substantial enough to necessitate police presence at subsequent board proceedings.

“Defendant Padgett concluded his term on the school board in November 2013 while criminal proceedings remained pending; Defendant Kowal and Belich, however, remained on the school board. While Defendant Padgett’s charges were pending and although repeatedly encouraged to terminate the criminal charges, Dr. Zurchin refused to withdraw the criminal complaint which was substantiated by the evidence or otherwise waive any legal claims against Padgett.

“Defendant Padgett ultimately pled guilty to the harassment charges in July 2014, more than a year after the threat. After Defendant Padgett entered his plea, Defendant Kowal informed Dr. Zurchin, ‘I will ruin you if it’s the last thing I do; if it means ruining this school district.'”

Alleged Collusion – Conspiracy And Threats By School Board Members

Pages 13 through 16 of Zurchin’s complaint detail allegations of retaliation after dealing with a reported incident of sexual harassment within the district:

“On March 20, 2015, a teacher in the school district filed a complaint with the union which was reported to Dr. Zurchin alleging that the Assistant to the Superintendent, Defendant Mealie, was engaging in sexual harassment. The teacher had simultaneously filed a complaint with her local police department alleging that Defendant Mealie was making unwelcome visits to her house.

“In support of her complaint, the teacher turned over 60 pages of text messages demonstrating the harassment that occurred. Dr. Zurchin, per district protocol, suspended Defendant Mealie pending an investigation. Further, Dr. Zurchin participated as a witness in the district’s independent investigation into the teacher’s claims of sexual harassment by Defendant Mealie.

“In addition to revealing sexual harassment by Defendant Mealie towards the teacher, the text messages between February and March 2015 also illustrate collusion between board members and Mealie to create a hostile work environment for Dr. Zurchin, to undermine Dr. Zurchin within the school and community and to compel her termination or resignation. The messages indicated concerted efforts undertaken by the Board and Defendant Mealie, who was appointed to her position by the Board, to malign Dr. Zurchin through the local public media, to foment a disruptive public response to Dr. Zurchin and force her ouster.

“Specifically, the messages, inter alia, indicate:

a. Collusion and conspiracy among Board Members to undermine Dr. Zurchin:

i. ‘I sent this to Kim, Kelly and Rob (In reference to board members Defendant Locher, Smith and Defendant Keber) this am. ‘Please make sure Roger and [at least] Angus is on board [with] Jess grievance…’ Yes I have balls. They’re my peeps and will be on it. Trust me.’
ii. ‘Texted Kelly, Kim and Rob [your] email and they [are] like [Zurchin] is trying to cover this up too. [She’s] gotta go. I wish I [could] be a fly on the wall in there. That cunt.’
iii. ‘Trust me I have them (Referencing the Board Members) trained . . . they know exactly how she thinks. I guarantee they have some shit up [their] sleeves to come at her with. [You might] get to see a show.’
iv. ‘I just texted [Roger Kowal] about your hearings. All good.’
v. ‘Hey we all help each other. I’m sure he will help me out when he can. I have a feeling that if I get [Zurchin’s] job it will be full of IOU’s to [people]. Fortunately I am in good graces with 95% of [people] and the other 5% can fuck off [because] they can’t beat me.’
vi. ‘Those 3 (Referencing the Board Members) will take care of [you] trust me. They [are] on it. They hate her as much as us and get great pleasure out of busting her. LOL [you] will see.’
vii. ‘I don’t think the board has ever not followed [the superintendent’s recommendation]. They always have. My [people] totally supported [you] so if [you] see them make sure [you] thank them. If it wasn’t for them [Dr. Zurchin would have] got her way again and [you would have] got fucked.’

b. Intent to physically harm Dr. Zurchin:

i. ‘[Zurchin’s] just being a cunt. So she will just look worse in the end. Her days [are] numbered. And if she Fucks [with] [you] I will fuck [with] her.’
ii. ‘I wanna beat her ass like [you] can’t believe. Just like in [high school]. I [would have] set her ass straight quick back then. I hate being nice. I’d rather fist fight.’
iii. ‘I wanna punch both Tom and [Zurchin] in the twat. LOL.’
iv. ‘I want to beat her ass for [you] and me and everyone else she has fucked with.’
v. ‘[You] know I just wanna punch [Zurchin]. It’s not over [with] her. I don’t forget this stuff. Trust me.’

c. A desire to effectuate Dr. Zurchin’s discharge:

i. ‘[You] think [Zurchin] would get the hint and leave.’
ii. ‘Plus [Zurchin’s] on her way out. She will never beat us. She may beat us down but in the end we will win.’
iii. ‘I’m done. It’s time. I can’t handle this anymore. I’m filing a complaint on her [with the Pennsylvania Department of Education]. I’ve had it . . . She won’t get away with this any longer.’

“The messages evidence malice and indicate that Defendant Mealie worked in concert with School Board members, including Defendant Kowal, Defendant Locher, Defendant Keber and (Kelly) Smith to undermine Dr. Zurchin in her professional capacity while violating obligations of confidentiality as to personnel and circumventing procedures to achieve that objective.”

Other Allegations

Dr. Cynthia Zurchin’s complaint can be read in its entirety here, which includes an alleged warning she received from an unidentified local reporter, obscene and offensive signs a school board member allegedly held up during executive sessions, and comments a board member allegedly made to others that Zurchin would be seen hanging from a bridge with her head in a noose.

74 COMMENTS

    • Do you people still don’t see this? Cindy Z is NUTS!!! She cant get hired anywhere, because of the Turmoil she has caused. This is now her attention getting technique!

       
      • Are you one of the defendants, Toomuch? Sounds like it. Her complaints are documented, she wasn’t too nuts to have the presence of mind to do that.

         
      • Are you missing the fact that all those texts where from Meghan Mealie?? she is the biggest bully is all..And she had no love for Mr. Kowal..

         
  1. If you believe any of what is in that court filing, I have a bridge on 11th Street in Ambridge that I would like to sell to you……

     
    • Don’t be fooled by the lawsuit. She is very far from innocent in anything. She was a horrible superintendent and I am glad she’s gone. Sorry it worked out this way but happy that she’s gone.

       
    • She is NOT a positive for public education or any school district. She has tried to suck the life out off our district since she came. I had issues I tried to work with her on with no solution. She’s horrible.

       
      • Well, blame your school board members’ bad hiring decision. They brought Zurchin into the district! They created the problem. They must have bad judgement, they certainly aren’t moving that district forward! Their language demonstrates what type of individuals they are. I’d vote them all out! Their dirty politics are ruining that district! So unprofessional.

         
    • Looks like the board wouldn’t let her do her job! She was an outsider, not from their town. They couldn’t control her. They like to hire their own “hometown” people. Narrow minded, that’s why that town and that district will never move forward!

       
    • Nicole Humphrey Wow! Lot’s of thoughts on this one!!! Clearly there is malice and coercion going on. I am going to read the FULL Complaint tonight. (I would recommend you read it as well if you haven’t already…keep in mind this is just the Plaintiff’s side. I would love to see the Answer and Counter Claims when they are filed as well as Plaintiff’s Reply) I would LOVE to work on a case like this one. Remember, you are only reading one source of information. I can’t come to an opinion on this as reported on in this story as of yet. I would LOVE to get elbows deep in the discovery and evidence provided from both sides. Although, I am extremely curious if the school officer has ever had a history of any kind of discrimination, prejudice or violence prior to these allegations or if he has been accused of any since…I am DEFINITELY following this one!!

       
    • Jodi Hill yes it would def be something to follow and do more research on. Apparently people who live within the district have different feelings but if the stories she tells (says there’s video evidence) of a special needs student being mistreated then I want to know more. Let me know if you do any digging. Ps miss you. Haven’t seen you in about three weeks starting to get a complex😂😂

       
    • Nicole Humphrey the officer isn’t a named Defendant in the lawsuit nor is the Ambridge Police Dept. the headline in this story is misleading… (shocker) this lawsuit is strictly a wrongful termination, sexual discrimination, and breach/interference of contract suit. I seriously doubt much is going to come out about this officer and the alleged abuse of this disabled child. Since it’s not part of the suit it probably won’t be addressed as it should be (I could be wrong) but the defense is going to (or should) have the majority of that excluded as evidence. Again…it’s going to be interesting to see what develops.
      And yes it’s been awhile since I’ve been in. Miss you guys too! I’ll try to stop by next week.

       
  2. Unbelievable … but so very believable.
    Doing the right thing isn’t always popular.
    Hang in there Mrs. Zurchin!

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;

    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;

    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;

    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

     
  3. That wacko Zurchin needs put in a straight jacket and dropped on a deserted island in the arctic or put in a box with 5000 flesh eating beetles. That woman is evil.

     
    • Maybe so but evil was obviously done to her as well. That board..wow…mental midgets wanting to be big shots.

       
  4. And don’t be fooled by the cluster Mealie created. Yes and that is her language in that court report..she harassed a lot of people..and forced me into early retirement..

     
  5. From previous JP articles written concerning the Ambridge HS ROTC officer and the Board members involved meeting at the local watering hole, further writings concerning Dr. Zurchin, and now THIS, I get the impression they deserve each other. What a bunch of dimwits!

    However, having silently lived through a similiar experience, it is MY OPINION that NO ONE deserves THIS kind of treatment. IF her accusations are TRUE (text messages DON’T lie and other documentation has been adjudicated) she should SUE their pants off.

     
  6. *sigh* When will the county’s 15 school districts and their boards, several of which are struggling financially and academically, stop with all the drama?

     
    • AND, every one of those 15 school districts require a Superintendent; probably an Assistant Superintendent also, plus other nefarious paper-pushers. This group of personnel is usually housed in the Adminstration Building.

      THEN, add a Principal, an Assistant Principal, an Assistant to the Assistant, more paper-pushers, times the number of school buildings (High, Middle and Elementary) times 15 = A LOT OF MONEY!! It’s time to consolidate into 3 to 5 districts or a county-wide system.

      When one or more school districts graduate less than 100 students it’s time to kiss the old alma mater goodbye.

       
      • It’s ridiculous that we have so many districts but it comes down to these small town nobodies wanting to be the big fish and keep their board positions and superintendent jobs. So much for wanting the best for students and taxpayers.

         
    • These overpaid administrators, politicians and the public need to work on merging into 4 school districts. The duplication of all the different admin people, principals, assistant principals and bloated staffs need downsized to benefit the students and taxpayers. More spending on pupils and less spending on salaries, retirement “golden packages” and family and friends getting jobs. North, East, South and Western Beaver County School Districts. Do the math on the hugs savings and taxes that could be lowered by half. Parochialism, nepotism and politics run these school boards leading to schools steadily declining quality of education. EVERYONE GRADUATES, just like everyone getting a trophy. This IS NOT preparing these students for employment but setting them up to have inflated egos and higher than realistic expectations for success. Standards are so low that there are no failures that need to stay behind another year for their own good. Stop pushing every kid to go to college. Over half will never complete college but because they are bs’d by teachers and administrators that college is paramount. Parents deserve more blame. There is great value in technical and vocational schools. Your plumbers, HVAC, carpenters and electricians will make plenty more than teachers. They can be evaluated on their performance and fired if lacking to meet standards. The worst thing to ever happen in this country was to let government employees unionize. Between the union and civil service protection you cannot be fired for any infraction less than murder. This all burdens our taxpayers without regard to their financial plight. This yokels in Ambridge have been bad for a long time. Look at every school district. Start with Hopewell, Center, Blackhawk, etc are all run by political people whose last concern is the taxpayers. Every bullshit hire, decision is predicated on making little Johnny & Suzy feel warm and fuzzy inside. The people who actually have to bear the burden should have much more power to end this but that will never happen. Merge and prosper or stay divided, dysfunctional and ride the herd of wildebeest’s over the cliff. This is going to happen within the next five years. Unite for the benefit of all concerned and leave your egos at the door.

       
  7. Whether you think she is crazy or not the fact that the board hired her lies on them. What was said and done is unspeakable and frankly supports Ambridges poor image. What professional treats another or speaks to another this way and thinks it is ok. I have no idea if she is a good superintendent or not. There are better ways to handle dissatisfaction with a performance and still be legal and respectable. For the mere fact of how this was handled I hope she wins every penny she is asking for. What an embarrassment to the Department of Education and education in general. I feel sorry for the students that were caught up in this mess.

     
  8. If you have any part in education and you start poking fun at special needs children, you might as well hang a sign around your neck saying ” Put Me In The Electric Chair “. They don’t take to kindly to that sort of thing.

     
  9. If she filed in federal court then she has evidence. Let the court decide. From what I’ve read, the house of cards is falling and this Megan person is the new Frank Underwood. Sick people.

     
  10. Her PTSD didn’t go as far as her dance school and recitals. Not sure I believe half of what she’s claiming, but the board chose her and gave into all her contract demands.

     
      • Her office occupied the space that was to have been the Library in the High School building. In other words, there was/is no library for the High School…

         
  11. From where I see things, if anybody is due restitution it’s the students of the district. Maybe the superintendent is nuts but the board members are the epitome of Pennsyltucky’s worst of the worst. In the end it’s the students who have been taken advantage of.

     
  12. The Ambridge School District started declining when they built the new school. The board that was in at that time made bad decisions on a lot of things. Now we are still paying for their bad decisions and high taxes. Anyone who went to meetings back in those days knew this is where we’d be 15 years ago.

     
  13. Literally made my blood boil just reading this. Halfway through I’m thinking to myself “This is a joke right?” It’s THAT embarrassing. And what’s even more embarrassing is that this is all public knowledge now.

    They should all be ashamed – every single person mentioned. Forget pointing fingers. Forget who did or said what. What a total embarrassment each of you are to our school district. How can any of you consider yourselves “professionals” if this is what you stoop to? Your pettiness and clear lack of respect for colleagues is downright nauseating. How old are we again???

    And if we’re going to highlight asinine individuals – Padgett should have been thrown out of the equation YEARS ago! He’s never been anything more than a popmous troll, yet he somehow manages to weasel his scummy self onto that school board year after year…

    TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE PEOPLE!

     
  14. Let the courts decide. I think she has some pretty damning evidence. And don’t AASD taxpayers just love paying for another lawsuit. Can’t wait to see who you hire for this debacle.

     
  15. If Locher really did say ‘Fuck those kids,’ referencing special needs students and Board Members really expressed animosity to students with disabilities and did attempt to interfere with furthering their education, that is a cardinal offense, not to mention Federal. The American Disabilities Act along with the Federal Dept of Education and the ACLU will run that school board through the wood chipper.

     
  16. If this super was hired by this board then I agree they are poor judges of character themselves or she hoodwinked them. Every inept decision made by unqualified personnel cost the taxpayers in the end. In this country we are deluded into thinking that the taxpayers is a never ending supply of cash from the government teats. It is not sustainable. And we wonder how the county court house is such a mess. All the issues keep returning to the same themes. Parochialism, politics, patronage, family and friends, uneducated voters, public apathy & corruption It is endemic to these old dying mill towns & middle America.

     
  17. It’s Amateur Hour once again in Beaver County. Don’t these Friggin Amateurs know that you NEVER put anything in writing such as emails and text messages??!!! I know nothing about this case and she MAY be the evil person that you are all saying however she is going to get PAID!!!! Ambridge does have the highest taxes in the county so why in the hell would anyone want to live in that district??!! They should drop incendiary bombs on that town and its sister town Aliquippa and then start over. Cuz Cuz running the show for their Police Department doesn’t help either. They need an extreme makeover in that district.

     
  18. So, now all these adolescents, (no dis-respect to teens), will cost us all a bunch of money. We need county school district with one super, one business manager and a supervisor of instruction! Do grown men and women actually act this way? Whewwwwwwwwww.

     
    • Well, if we could just have one Superintendent and ONE business manager in Ambridge, that would be a good start! Looks like the extra 120K or so in the budget next year will be gone in a few hours with Ira and his band of merry men representing the district. It’s not like we pay him enough already… Seriously, what do we need to do in order for the State to step in and take control of the School District???

       
  19. No way, there can’t be one district. How will relatives get jobs. I won’t know anyone to get me a teaching position. We need 15 superintendents and a principal for every school in each district.
    How am I sounding??

     
  20. Why in the world would anyone waste their time watching soap operas on tv when we have the Beaver County players presenting a different show every day of the week.

     
  21. It’s a KNOWN fact that if you have a child with any type of disability whether it be emotional or physical ambridge school district is NOT the place for your child to be. I have heard this time and time again from many medical professionals. I find that to be sad yet disgusting. In a perfect world there are perfect children being perfect students.

     
  22. Wow! What a joke. Zurchin is a liar and has no proof of any of this crap. They only write her side of the story. This is why Ambridge and basically everyone in it is corrupt.

     
  23. Looks like Zurchin has plenty of evidence. And as far as a liar, really??? Who would file a federal lawsuit and lie about it. Can’t wait to see how this one plays out!

     
    • Who would file a Federal lawsuit and lie? Cynthia “Dream Big” Zurchin, that’s who! I’m not saying everything in the filing is false but some is and she has NEVER had to face any consequences for her actions… “Whale Done” Cindy, “Whale done” indeed you miserable pile of festering pile of ambergris

       
  24. How is Nate Smith’s alleged mistreatment of J.H. evidence of discord between minority and non-minority students? It states J.H. is African American, and so is Officer Nate Smith.

     

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!

Please enter your name here