Attorney General announces charges in Scranton School District investigation

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Three people in the Scranton School District have been arrested for an alleged cover up. For months, Eyewitness News has been following the toxic schools situation involving lead and asbestos in the district. Wednesday, Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke out about the investigation.

Shapiro called out the failed leadership of the three administrators for not providing a healthy and safe learning environment for students, staff and parents. In handcuffs, former Scranton School District Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, former Chief Operating Officer Jeff Brazil and current Maintenance Supervisor Joseph Slack walked into district court.

“We will be charging each defendant with endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro unveiled parts of a grand jury report into the district’s lead and asbestos problems. He shared his findings Wednesday at a news conference at the district’s administration building. In 2016, the district found 298 water sources to have lead, 22 of those having dangerous levels. That required an immediate response. In the same year, 74 spots in 12 buildings required urgent action for asbestos remediation. In 2018 and 2019, lead levels increased and 90% of the asbestos remained according to a grand jury report.

“Kirijan and Brazil had a legal duty under the law to take action. Instead, the health of students, faculty and staff remained in jeopardy for more than three years,” said Shapiro.

A principal in the district alerted Kirijan of ceilings falling apart, sending asbestos particles into the air. According to Shapiro, Kirijan looked the other way and said not to send emails about the problem—only have conversations by phone.

“Kirijan, Brazil and Slack knew. Their silence, their cover up and their inactions will now have consequences,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro made it a point to say in the news conference that this is still an active investigation and that there will be more to come. He also said all three administrators failed to inform the new administration of all problems.

According to a release from the office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General, the Scranton School District administration held a press conference claiming that water sources were fixed instead of taking steps to resolve the problem. The office says they also never alerted the public of the presence of asbestos in the schools. 

“Parents trust their children will be safe inside their schools and the people responsible for those facilities have their best interests at heart,” said Lieutenant Colonel Scott Price, deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police. “The charges announced today are a step toward rebuilding that trust. We are grateful to everyone who came forward to aid in the investigation, and to all the teachers and administrators in Scranton who are working to create a safe space for children to learn.”

Defendants are being charged a count for each school affected, and as follows:

Kirijan

Charges Related to Lead in Drinking Water:

  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F1) – 5 Counts
  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F2 – 10 Counts
  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (M2) – 10 Counts

Charges Related to Asbestos:

  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F1) – 9 Counts
  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F2 – 14 Counts
  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (M2) – 14 Counts

Brazil

Charges Related to Lead in Drinking Water:

  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F1) – 5 Counts
  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F2 – 10 Counts
  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (M2) – 10 Counts

Charges Related to Asbestos:

  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F1) – 9 Counts
  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F2 – 14 Counts
  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (M2) – 14 Counts

Slack

Charges Related to Lead in Drinking Water:

  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F1) – 3 Counts
  • Endangering Welfare of Children (F2 – 8 Counts
  • Recklessly Endangering Another Person (M2) – 8 Counts

Each Felony 1 charge carries maximum penalties of 20 years and a $25,000 fine, Felony 2 charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years and $25,000 fine, and the misdemeanor counts carry up to 2 years in prison and $5,000 fine.

UPDATE: The Scranton School Board has released a statement on the Attorney General’s announcement and we have included it in full below:

“Earlier today, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced that the 44th Investigating Grand Jury has recommended criminal charges against the former superintendent, retired chief operating officer and a maintenance supervisor of the Scranton School District. The full statement can be found at www.attorneygeneral.gov.

The Board of Education appreciates the work of the Attorney General and Pennsylvania State Police and will support continued efforts to cooperate with this active and ongoing investigation. In his remarks, General Shapiro stated, “Once we notified the current leadership about these issues, I want to be very clear, they took immediate action.” The Board reveres the work this Administration has undertaken to ensure healthy learning environments for our students, our staff and all who enter our buildings.”

SCRANTON SCHOOL BOARD

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