The Ambridge Area School Board reorganized its leadership Wednesday following several police incidents involving the JROTC instructor, his wife, and a school board member.
School director Kimberly Locher motioned to dismiss and reorganize the board’s leadership after joining with Roger Kowal and Rob Keber to request that Board President May Jo Kehoe resign.
According to police, Kehoe and 1st Sgt. Carl Curtis, instructor of the high school's JROTC program, were both cited with disorderly conduct early Sunday after police said they engaged in a loud, profanity-laced argument that “disrupted the bar” inside the Ambridge American Legion.
The three board members all read statements calling for Kehoe to resign because they said her involvement placed the district in a bad light.
“The image of the Ambridge Area School District has been compromised and there now stands a lack of credibility and trust of the board,” Kowal read from a statement.
Keber said board members have “an ethical obligation” to conduct themselves properly or they should step down.
“We as board members are representatives of the school district at all times. The poor choices of any one of us can have far reaching and potentially detrimental consequences,” Keber said.
Kehoe didn't resign, but board members voted 6-3 to reorganize their roles with Scott Baker, MC Knafelc and Kehoe voting against the reorganization.
Knafelc, formerly vice president, was appointed to replace Kehoe as president and Jeremy Angus was appointed vice president, both with a 5-4 vote. Kowal, Keber, Locher and Kelly Smith all voted for Locher, who was nominated for each office.
Locher said whatever happened or didn’t happen, Kehoe should resign for the good of the district. Locher pointed out another instance in which a former Ambridge board president stepped down when his son was criminally charged because he didn’t want to be a distraction.
While some pleaded in favor of Kehoe and Curtis stepping down, others spoke on their behalf, including Bob Kehoe, Mary Kehoe’s husband of 30 years. He said his wife has volunteered in the district for many years, from making costumes and planting flowers to raising $20,000 for a new playground.
“It’s beyond me why she even wants to have this job,” he said. “She gets no pay, she gets nothing. She puts in many hours. People call my house at all hours of the night.”
He said the night she was cited, she had gone to help but instead got “trumped up” charges. Mary Jo Kehoe declined to comment after the meeting.
Police responded to the Legion around 2:15 a.m. Sunday after Kehoe and Curtis began arguing. Police did not say what they argued about.
Ambridge Police Chief James Mann said the bartender was likely concerned after an earlier incident at 1 a.m. when Curtis’ wife struck him over the head with a beer mug. Kathleen Curtis was charged with simple assault and reckless endangerment.
Mann said Kehoe came to the Legion because Kathleen Curtis called her for a ride. After she and 1st Sgt. Curtis were cited and ordered to leave, he said Kehoe agreed to give Curtis, whom police described as “highly intoxicated,” a ride home.
Police said Kathleen Curtis, while in police custody, warned officers that her husband was scheduled to drive JROTC students for a field trip to Grove City at 5:30 a.m. that morning. Officers went to the high school and found Curtis waiting in the parking lot. Police said he smelled strongly of alcohol and was taken into custody for public drunkenness.
Police filed an additional child endangerment charge Tuesday morning against Carl Curtis after a 14-year-old JROTC student came forward Monday with information that Curtis drove her to school for the field trip.
Solicitor Ira Weiss said Carl Curtis has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
Weiss said "the board has been advised that for a number of reasons dealing with his due process rights and potential liability of the district, that they don't make any public comment" regarding Curtis.
Bill LeBlanc of South Beaver defended 1st Sgt. Curtis, telling the board that his son is a Blackhawk student, but comes to Ambridge specifically for the Marine Corps program. He said Curtis has done many things in the community and for the students, teaching them skills such as leadership and discipline.
“There’s a lot of children in this school district and other school districts who rely on this program to help form them into the men that they’re going to become in the future.”
But Tom Patterson of Ambridge, who graduated in 2007, said there has to be a standard.
“First Sgt. Curtis did do great things but there has to be zero tolerance. There’s no room for error,” he said.
Cora Pucci of Ambridge agreed, telling the board this isn't the first time an incident involving Curtis has happened at the Legion, and said she can provide proof.
“If it’s zero tolerance for children, it has to be zero tolerance for adults,” Pucci said.
Knafelc said all of the comments given will be taken into consideration.
"We take this all very seriously and we're not rushing to judgement. We need to find out all the information," she said.
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