Greensburg Salem School District employees accused of restraining 3 children appear in court

GREENSBURG, Pa. — After a nearly three-hour-long preliminary hearing, charges against a Greensburg Salem special education teacher and her aide were held for trial.

Both Brooke Stanko and Teri Kepchia stayed silent before and after their first hearing in front of a judge to face more than 20 charges for allegedly endangering children in their special needs classroom at Nicely Elementary School.

>> 2 Greensburg Salem School District employees accused of restraining 3 children

“It was a very lengthy investigation. There’s a lot of witnesses, a lot of things that just took a lot of time before these charges were even filed to make sure the full story came out,” said Detective Sergeant Justin Scalzo of the Greensburg Police Department.

Prosecutors called on him to testify, as well as two victims’ parents, three aides who were in Stanko and Kepchia’s classroom, and the Nicely Elementary School principal.

Witnesses said Stanko and Kepchia wrapped up at least two children in a “sound wall mat” when they were disruptive.

One aide said Stanko would pick a student up under the arms and throw him into a foam pad.

Police and the school principal also say the two admitted to holding one child down and spraying lemon juice into his mouth when he had spit, or “blown raspberries,” in Kepchia’s mouth. That student, according to his mother’s testimony, is mostly non-verbal, has autism and ADHD.

The two allegedly changed the lemon juice to a soap solution when the lemon juice hadn’t worked, saying the boy liked it. One of them also allegedly covered the boy’s mouth shut after spraying it.

>> Investigation into incident at Greensburg Salem School District could lead to charges

That student allegedly suffered from vomiting at home after this was happening, according to his mother.

Kepchia’s attorney argues none of this is a crime, but they knew they were wrong.

“Lemon juice in a child’s mouth? I’m not sure how that could possibly endanger a child,” said Timothy Andrews. “Soapy water? Not a bright thing to do maybe, maybe not the right thing to do, but again, is it endangering their welfare?”

All charges were held for trial, but Judge Mark Bilik, who was filling in for Magistrate Judge Chris Flanigan, said it was a hard decision, and he wasn’t convinced until he heard from the principal and Detective Scalzo.

“This never gets easier even after 32 years, and just when you thought you’ve heard it all, you have a case like this,” Bilik said in court.

Detectives say this investigation is still ongoing and more people could be charged, including two aides who testified during Thursday’s preliminary hearing.

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