By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
WEST MIDDLESEX —
A former West Middlesex High School student described her relationship with her art club advisor as “more than a friendship” Thursday at his preliminary hearing.
The girl, 15, who has since left the school district, said she met Robert A. Palko Jr., 38, of Liberty, Ohio, at the beginning of this school year through a friend. While she did not have any classes with Palko, who resigned as an art teacher in January, she joined the art club and would come to his room during study hall with other students, she said.
Palko’s wife, Casey, was the study hall teacher and would allow the girl to go to Palko’s room, she said.
Palko, a former Shenango Township supervisor, and the girl also texted frequently, she said. Their relationship included talking about problems in the girl’s personal life and she would go on art club field trips led by Palko, she said.
The girl, who was 14 when she first met Palko, said she was out of school sick one day and the day she returned he asked her to send him a photo of herself naked, she said. He told her she “owed it to him,” she said.
She had previously sent pictures of herself clothed to him, she said.
The girl said she stood before a mirror naked, took a photo, and sent it from her telephone to him.
Palko would rub the girl’s stomach over and under her clothes, something she said he did about 20 times, she said.
Palko also once pulled down her shirt to see a tattoo on her shoulder, she said. Palko was aware of the tattoo because she had posted a photo of it on Twitter, she said.
The girl, the only witness to testify Thursday, said she had a crush on Palko and told other students she wanted to have sex with him, she said.
She said she would go with Palko into the back room of the art room, sometimes when other students were in the art room, when he would touch her stomach, she said. Sometimes the door was closed but other times it was open, she said.
Another teacher walked in on them once but, “He didn’t see anything,” she said.
Another student once saw him touch her stomach, she said.
Palko told her “how much he wanted it,” she said, but their physical relationship never went beyond him touching her stomach, she said.
The girl said she asked Palko if he had ever cheated on his wife. He replied that he had not, but that “there could be exceptions,” she said.
The girl said she told Palko’s wife that another girl had a crush on him, but said she did not know why she did it.
School officials were alerted when another student looked at the girl’s phone as the girl was checking for a return of a text message she had sent to Palko, and the student saw the naked photo the girl had sent him, the girl said.
The student asked what the photo was and the victim told her it was a photo for Palko, the victim said.
Defense attorney Davis Acker asked that all charges be dismissed.
“This is not a relationship that was fostered by Mr. Palko,” Acker said. “It was fostered by this young lady.”
District Judge Ronald E, Antos, Farrell, disagreed and held for court charges of unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a cell phone, corruption of a minor, child pornography and sexual abuse of a child.
Palko is free on bond.