By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
WEST MIDDLESEX AREA —
A former West Middlesex High School art teacher and former Shenango Township supervisor has been arrested for having an inappropriate relationship with a 15-year-old student.
Robert A. Palko Jr., 38, of 564 Daffodil Lane, Hubbard, turned himself in Tuesday to Southwest Mercer County Regional police, who charged him last Wednesday with unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a cellular telephone, corruption of a minor, child pornography and sexual abuse of a child.
Palko was arraigned Tuesday by District Judge Ronald E. Antos, Farrell, and released after posting $25,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for 9 a.m. April 18 before Antos.
Palko resigned Jan. 28 from his job at the school, effective Jan. 16. The school board gave no reasons for his resignation but did call it “irrevocable.”
School Superintendent Alan Baldarelli did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment on Palko’s arrest. However, several days after Palko’s resignation, Baldarelli said he had to wait to comment “until everything is completed.”
Palko was a township supervisor for nine years, resigning in September 2011, shortly after his marriage and just before his move to Ohio.
According to police, school officials received a report Jan. 10 from a student that a 15-year-old student had shown her a nude photo of herself on her phone and text messages related to Palko.
School policy forbids teachers to text with students, police and Baldarelli said.
Palko had told school officials that he received photos from the girl, but none of them showed her nude, police said. He volunteered a cell phone that showed he had sent text messages to the girl and received texts from her, police said.
The girl admitted sending a nude photo of herself to Palko after he asked for it, police said.
The girl said she would meet Palko in the back room of the art class and showed him her tattoos, one under her breast, one on her back and one below her stomach, police said.
Palko would hug the girl from behind and rub her stomach, police said.
The girl asked Palko if he would cheat on his wife to have sex with a student, police said.
The girl and her parents consented to having her phone searched by the state police computer crime lab, and an analyst found text and Twitter messages between the girl and Palko from November through January, police said.
After officials started investigating, Palko texted the girl and told her what to say if questioned by school administrators, police said. He also told her to delete the photo, police said.
Herald Staff Writer Melissa Klaric contributed to this story.