By Michael N. Price & Kristina Scala
Daily Local News
In late August we began to hear rumors regarding the departures of two senior administrators in the Coatesville Area School District. Several days later we confirmed the resignations of both the district’s superintendent and the high school’s director of athletics and activities.
At the time the district declined to provide the public with any information explaining the departures.
Around the same time, an anonymous source faxed us several pages of text message transcripts that showed vulgar exchanges between to cell phone numbers. The source also included handwritten notes that indicated two former administrators, superintendent Richard Como and athletic director Jim Donato, were responsible for the exchanges.
We knew that if authentic, the transcripts in our possession would create public outrage. The exchanges were not only beyond offensive, but they included conversations that made apparent references to specific students and faculty members.
In an attempt to authenticate the documents, we filed a series of Right-to-Know requests with the district in search of a list of district-issued cell phones and the employee’s name associated with each number.
Before the district responded to our request, our reporting led us to two district administrators who we learned were the first to discover and report the messages to both the school board and to law enforcement.
After multiple attempts to set up a meeting, we eventually were able to sit down with our two sources. They provided us with a bombshell.
Not only did we receive over 100 pages of text message transcripts, our sources also provided us with a copy of Donato’s address book, a document that allowed us to confirm each number listed in the transcript.
With these documents in hand, we printed our Sept. 22 story that instantly created a firestorm that received national attention. Our coverage was credited with breaking the story in both regional and national publications.
Two days later over 1,000 people attended a regularly scheduled school board meeting. The board was scheduled to approve Como and Donato’s resignations. The public demanded the board fire the pair instead.
During the meeting our two sources, whose identity we kept secret, publicly revealed themselves in a dramatic address to the school board and those in attendance. With news cameras running our sources, two high-level district administrators, confirmed the Daily Local News’ entire story.
We have been humbled by the response to our coverage. The chance to cover a story like this one is the reason we decided to pursue a career in journalism to begin with.
To this point we have printed over 50 stories covering the scandal. The discovery of the text messages has led to criminal investigations of not only the two administrators responsible for the exchanges, but also of district officials and lawyers in response to the handling of the situation.
We continue to follow the story, and we hope our coverage will result in meaningful change. We are thankful for this recognition.