The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 29, 2014

Former teacher gets probation

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

WEST MIDDLESEX — A judge spared a former West Middlesex High School teacher jail time because he did not make an inappropriate relationship with a student physical and has been banned from teaching because of his conviction.

“It’s clear that there are collateral consequences as a result of your actions and indiscretions,” Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John said to Robert A Palko Jr., 39, of Liberty, Ohio. “The good things you have done in your life speak volumes and have earned you this break.”

St. John put Palko on 5 years’ probation with 100 hours’ community service.

Palko, a former Shenango Township supervisor, pleaded guilty Nov. 5 to a charge of corrupting the morals of a minor for a series of text messages he exchanged with the girl, then 15, between November 2012 and January 2013 while he was an art teacher at West Middlesex.

While the relationship was not physical, it was “out of bounds,” said Assistant District Attorney Daniel Davis.

Davis read some of the texts in court Tuesday. In one exchange, the girl wrote, “You want it?” and Palko responded, “You know it.”

The girl asks Palko if he has or would cheat on his wife, and she says that he cheated on her.

In another text exchange, the girl says she is not coming to his classroom during his free period, as she had been doing, and Palko says he will drag or pull her there.

After their cell phones were seized, Palko and the girl communicated on the Twitter social networking site. He tells her to come to his room, and directs her in how to cover up their relationship for authorities, Davis said.

Davis doubted Palko’s story that the girl “stole” his cell phone number.

“Mr. Palko doesn’t seem to believe what he was doing was wrong,” Davis said. “The court needs to fashion a sentence that shows him what he was doing was wrong.”

Palko responded he does understand what he did was wrong.

“I know it was the worst mistake I’ve ever made in my life,” Palko said, and he apologized to the girl, the court, the school and his family.

St. John noted the girl’s mother filed a victim impact statement that said the girl has been in counseling for emotional problems.

“The mother asks that you never be allowed to teach again,” St. John said.

The teacher certification system has taken care of that. Palko’s certificate is suspended and the conviction will prevent him from teaching or coaching again, Palko said.

“I don’t see any reason he won’t live a goodly life from here on out,” said defense attorney David Acker, adding that Palko has been attending counseling with his pastor. “He’s making amends the best he can.”