Sandusky Scandal Casts Pall On Central Pa. School

Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky will be in court Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing in his child sex abuse case. But the scandal isn't confined to the university. A high school and town, 35 miles away, are facing questions too.

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Let's come back to this country now, where we're expecting a court hearing today in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal - it comes tomorrow. Among those expected to testify is the man designated by the grand jury as Victim One. His story of alleged abuse prompted a major investigation and brought this case to light.

Sandusky denies the allegations. He was, you'll recall, a revered assistant football coach at Penn State, but the scandal is not confined to the university. A high school and a town, 35 miles away, face questions too. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: When the Sandusky scandal broke, Central Mountain High School appeared to be one of the good guys. The grand jury report that first described the shocking allegations says Central Mountain and its district did the right thing after finding out Sandusky was allegedly abusing one of its students, Victim One. They reported it, and told him, don't come back.

But NPR interviews and recent media reports raised questions about the school's actions. Jerry Sandusky started showing up at Central Mountain football games in 2002. He was close to one of the players who also was involved in Sandusky's charity for at-risk kids, The Second Mile.

KARA BARNETT: It was huge. I mean, he was a figure.

GOLDMAN: Twenty-three-year-old Kara Barnett remembers her days at Central Mountain High during the years Sandusky was there.

BARNETT: Penn State's so big, everyone watches Penn State. It was amazing to have the defensive coordinator come to little Central Mountain. We're so tiny, we didn't think anything like that would happen.

GOLDMAN: Barnett's having lunch at Original Italian Pizza in Lock Haven - the seat of Clinton County and home to most Central Mountain students. Her stepfather, John Lipez, works at the weekly newspaper a few blocks down Main Street. Lipez occasionally interviewed Sandusky, who became a full-time volunteer football coach at the school.

JOHN LIPEZ: He's a neat guy. He's a cool guy, he tells Polish jokes, he's self-effacing, you know? He's a funny guy. And he duped, would be, I think, an appropriate word. He fooled Chet; he fooled me.

GOLDMAN: Chet is Steve Turchetta, an assistant principal and former head football coach at Central Mountain. He would sometimes pull students out of class at Sandusky's request, for unmonitored visits. This included Victim One. Here's his mother, her voice altered, in an ABC-TV interview.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I didn't even know that he was leaving the school with my child. I didn't know that he was taking him out of classes. They never told me that.

GOLDMAN: Eventually there was a dramatic meeting at the school. It included the boy, his mother, school principal Karen Probst. The boy said he'd been abused by Sandusky. The mother said, let's go to the police; Probst said, think about it. Reporting Jerry Sandusky might be difficult for everyone involved. Still, Probst told the mother if she didn't report it, Probst would. State law requires that.

The mother was angry - she and some child welfare officials interpreted Probst's caution as taking Sandusky's side. No one from the school is speaking publicly, but a welfare official says the district historically has given the benefit of the doubt to children and family members who come forward with concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You have reached the Clinton County Children and Youth Services...

GOLDMAN: Probst phoned youth services at 12:35 in the afternoon on November 20th, 2008, the day after the meeting and the same day the mother reported the suspected abuse. The timeline was acceptable within the law.

But the mother's criticism didn't end there. She says Probst was dismissive when the mother asked that administrators address alleged incidents of bullying against her son. Victim One ultimately withdrew from the high school.

So, fallout from the Sandusky case reaches deeper into rural Pennsylvania. Relations between the school district and county youth services are strained. Local newspaperman John Lipez worries about the scars this will leave in Clinton County.

LIPEZ: I've talked to insurance people, they wouldn't be surprised if our local school district is sued. I mean this is a story that is not going to go away for a long time; we had better get used to this. It's a sordid, troubling affair and it's going to be part of our community for a while.

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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