NEWS 10 Investigates: Questions raised about Lansing acting superintendent

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LANSING, MI. (WILX) - There's an update on the search for the next Lansing schools superintendent, the community will now get a chance to provide feedback.

Mark Coscarella, who is currently Lansing School's acting superintendent, talks to News 10's Megan Hiler in an interview (source, WILX).

Last month NEWS 10 first told you about a woman who claimed Acting Superintendent Mark Coscarella harassed her when she was his student teacher.

She was concerned for other women if he became the next Lansing Superintendent.

Coscarella also resigned from his position with Holt Schools in 2002 after accusations he provided or allegedly allowed students to watch pornography on a baseball trip.

The Lansing School Board said they have now hired an outside firm to investigate those claims.

The board voted to do an internal search for the next candidate, which Coscarella is a front runner.

The first of two sessions will be Wednesday night at 6:30 and another on November 12th.

They will take place at the Administration Building on Kalamazoo Street.

NEWS 10's Megan Hiler sat down with one of his previous student teachers, Casey Sterle, who is now a teacher in Leslie.

She said that Coscarella should not be a mentor to anyone.

"I think that being in charge of people, teachers, experienced teachers, young teachers, vulnerable people, children who are vulnerable...I don't think that he can be trusted to do that job," she said.

Sterle, who was 24-years-old at the time, said when she was doing her internship with Coscarella and his first grade class, he came onto her, completely violating her trust.

"They tell you that if you don't finish it that you'll never be able to get a job," she said. "So after that happened, I went back and I finished because I was afraid that if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to get a good job in my career."

According to the police report, she says it started with Coscarella asked her to meet with him, a move she didn’t feel comfortable about because she said he often made comments or said things she felt were inappropriate. But, she eventually agreed.

When she was in the classroom, she claims he locked the door of the classroom and wouldn’t let her leave.

"I'll never forget the feeling that day when I was trying to open that door and he looked at me and said, 'don't open that door,'” said Sterle. “That's when I found out that the door was locked, and I'll probably never forget that sound for the rest of my life."

She said he shut the blinds, put on music and stripped down to his heather briefs, then started dancing and gyrating near her lap. She said he didn't touch her but she was afraid.

Sterle said she didn't initially report it back then because she was afraid to lose her internship and just wanted to move past it.

Coscarella, who is Lansing Schools' Acting Superintendent denies the allegations.

"I do remember the situation that you're talking about. At the time I was coaching baseball so, there's no way that those allegations are true," he said.

Hiler asked him about locking the door and removing his clothes and asked if he was saying it wasn't true.

"That's right. It did not happen," he replied.

Two years later, Coscarella resigned from Holt Schools after a pornographic video was shown on a baseball team trip. Coscarella was the team’s coach. Police questioned members of the team. Some players told investigators that Coscarella knew about the video. Others claimed he provided it.

According to the police report, Coscarella told police he did not provide it, and told the players to shut it off when he found out about it. NEWS 10 asked him about these accusations.

"You know it was a long time ago. We had some kids that were with us on a trip and I was coaching baseball at the time, and I loved coaching baseball for Holt. There were some thing's that I wish I'd do differently. Since it happened, I moved on," he said.

Police took the case to the prosecutor who was Stuart Dunnings at the time, but no charges were ever filed.

It was after this incident when Sterle said she knew she had to come forward and file a police report about what she claimed happened to her.

"I thought then that we would just move on," she said.

"No charges were ever filed. I had no knowledge of it and I was never interviewed by police for it," Coscarella explained about the accusation.

Cheryl Brand who has worked for both Holt and Lansing schools knows of Coscarella and agrees that he's not the right man for the job.

"These are young men that you are supposed to be molding into good, civilized young men and you're getting some sort of connection with them for watching pornography?" Brand said.

"It happened a long time ago. And certainly, I would do things differently, a few things differently at the time. I would say look at my record since then,” Coscarella responded.

Sterle said she ran into Conscarella again in 2017 at a meeting.

"He asked if he could talk to me after the meeting and I said no,” she said. “And even after I said no, he followed me out of the building, and he said to me, ‘I paid a high price for what happened.'"

Sterle said it was that moment she knew it hadn’t changed.

"All of these years later, he still followed me out of the building, he doesn't hear the word no," she said. "And I think that he will abuse his power again, that's what I really think."

Sterle added that before she spoke to Hiler, she sent a letter along with her police report to Lansing School Board president.

She was told it was received, but did not hear anything else regarding it.

Coscarella is currently the acting Superintendent of Lansing Schools. At last Thursday's School Board Meeting, the board voted they will search internally for its next superintendent. There will be public input in early December and a formal announcement of a new superintendent is expected before winter break begins. NEWS 10 will continue to follow any developments on this story.

The Lansing Schools Education Association (LSEA) released a statement to its members regarding Coscarella saying it will "continue to monitor the details as they come forward. We will do our due diligence, reviewing all information and keep you, our members, informed of any new developments."

UPDATE as of 10/29/19

Six days after this story aired, Lansing School District has responded. They sent News 10's Megan Hiler the following statement.

"The Board of Education for the Lansing School District is moving forward with our search for a new Superintendent, and our unanimous focus is on conducting an internal search within candidates working in the district. We have a great team and Lansing has a terrific record of educational progress and positive momentum!

The board is moving forward with our search process for a new superintendent with the help of our partners at the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB). We take this matter and all public comments seriously, and will be conducting a thorough review of all claims with the help of a third party investigator.

Dr. Mark Coscarella has made a complete disclosure to the Board of Education about events from many years ago. The district was aware of these unsubstantiated allegations when Dr. Coscarella was hired by the Lansing School District in a leadership position in 2014. The public can be assured that the elected school board members will review all comments and make the right decision," Board of Education President Rachel R. Willis (Lewis) said.

Coscarella also sent the following statement:

"I am angered by the false allegations that Ms. Sterle has made against me in reference to my time as her mentor teacher. They are absolutely not true. Since I was first made aware of her report, I have vehemently stated that the incident did not happen. Details of her story were proven to be false almost twenty years ago. My wife and I have retained an attorney to pursue all available legal options."

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