- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) - A law firm has found evidence that some school district officials may have deleted relevant emails and lied during an internal investigation of how administrators handled revelations that there were dangerous levels of lead in an elementary school’s drinking water.

The Butler School District released a two-page executive summary late Monday summing up the findings of Witherel & Associates, the law firm the district hired to conduct an internal investigation.

After investigating the initial water test results, attorney Michael Witherel, who heads the firm, “expanded his investigation to address several incidents of alleged employees’ misconduct,” the summary said.

Among other things, Witherel found failures to perform job responsibilities and evidence of “unauthorized access to the District’s email system” and “unauthorized retrieval and removal of emails” and false statements made under oath. Witherel listed nine school district administrators who were questioned under oath in the summary, including former Superintendent Dale Lumley, but didn’t specify who may have made false statements.

The school, Summit Elementary, was closed for two days in January after Lumley said he learned the lead problem hadn’t been rectified since it was detected in August.

The school has since closed indefinitely for unrelated problems with E. coli in the wells from which its water is drawn, and its students began classes earlier this month in another previously shuttered building, Broad Street Elementary School.

District solicitor Thomas King said Mary Wolf resigned as assistant superintendent for elementary education on Monday night. Glenn Terwilliger, director of facilities for the district, resigned earlier this month.

None of them have been accused publicly of wrongdoing, or commented on their resignations.

Witherel’s summary said the internal investigation has ended and his full report isn’t being released while the Butler County district attorney continues a criminal investigation into whether any laws were broken by school officials in their response to the lead problem. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is also investigating.

The district, in releasing the law firm’s executive summary, said it is continuing to cooperate with those investigations.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Jennifer Tait and her daughter, Jillian, who attended Summit Elementary, filed a lawsuit they hope will become a class-action.

Brendan Lupetin, one of the attorneys for the Taits, said the district’s response to the lead issue has been insufficient. The district has offered to pay each student to be tested once for lead in their bloodstreams, but Lupetin wants unspecified monetary damages and a court to order the district to pay for future periodic lead testing for Summit students.

The district should also be forced to create a contingency fund to pay for future medical expenses in case any students eventually develop health problems linked to lead in the school’s water, the lawsuit contends.

Lumley, before he resigned, said he was aware of the August tests that found lead in the water but was advised by a maintenance worker put in charge of monitoring the water that the lead problem was resolved by September.

It turns out the problem was never resolved, though it’s unclear when Lumley or the other administrators learned that before the oversight was revealed to angry parents at a school board meeting Jan. 23.

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This story has been corrected to say that three administrators have resigned, not four.

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