Voters in the Tamaqua Area School District headed to the polls last week with quite the dilemma. Do we want armed teachers in our schools? And can we trust the school board president?
People around the state and country were watching.
Tamaqua Area School Board Election 2019
There were two clearly marked factions running against each other.
On one side, you had a mostly-incumbent group of 5 Republicans. The other side featured a group of 5 Democrats. The big issue: arming teachers and school staff.
The Republicans backed arming teachers and school staff at Tamaqua Area schools. They vowed to move on with previous plans to craft a rule that would allow for arming someone inside the schools in the interest of safety.
Democrats, collectively called Tamaqua Citizens for Safe Schools, aren’t totally opposed to having someone armed. They vehemently oppose, however, arming teachers.
In the end, voters had to pick 5 candidates and overwhelmingly, they chose the Republicans. It wasn’t that close, either.
2019 Tamaqua Area School District ElectionUnofficial final results
|Thomas J. Bartasavage||REP||2631||*|
|Trina M. Schellhammer||REP||2618||*|
|Daniel E. Schoener||REP||2563||*|
|Melanie I.S. Dillman||REP||2434||*|
|Larry A. Wittig||REP||2095||*|
|Cheryl Tennant Humes||DEM||1244|
But that was the case across Schuylkill County in the 2019 election.
Tamaqua voters had something else to consider, too. Another big issue: Larry Wittig.
The Larry Wittig Factor
In addition to backing candidates who support arming teachers in the interest of school safety, they also backed a candidate who has a hard time making that case personally.
Just weeks before the election, a story resurfaced from Tamaqua Area’s school board president Larry Wittig’s past.
In October, the U.S. Center for SafeSport imposed a lifetime ban on Wittig from U.S. Olympic sports. The ban stems from a series of incidents in 1981. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which broke this story originally back in 2017, in 1981, Wittig was rowing coach at Harriton High School. Two women, then just 17 years old, say Wittig had sexual contact with them when he was their coach after they’d just graduated high school.
The two women joined their coach, Wittig, at a U.S. Nationals rowing event in California in the summer of 1981. During that trip, the women say Wittig made sexual advances on them. One of the accusers, Annette DeMichele, tells The Inquirer that she and Wittig had a sexual relationship for almost a year. She was 17 and he was 32 and married. The relationship was held in secret, she says, and ended when Wittig’s wife became pregnant in 1982.
Wittig doesn’t deny the relationship with DeMichele. He does deny any other allegations of sexual misconduct. And regarding the prolonged relationship he had with DeMichele, he described himself as being in love and asked SafeSport investigators “What were the rules (in 1981)?”, according to the Inquirer report.
Here’s an excerpt from a Keystone Crossroads report detailing parts of the investigation:
The Inquirer notes that Wittig’s story on his relationship with DeMichele has changed several times, depending on the media interviewing him.
Since the 2017 report in The Inquirer, Wittig’s been removed from several key titles he held, including the Pennsylvania Board of Education.
Turning a Blind Eye?
Age difference aside, as difficult as that is to put aside, Wittig’s wrong about the appropriateness of his relations with DeMichele.
Relationships between coaches and players are like those between employers and their employees … a big no-no.
We don’t presume to know “the rules” regarding married guys in their 30s hooking up with 17-year olds in 1981 but we’re going to assume that it’s the same as it is in 2019. But are these things that should disqualify Wittig from running for and being on the Tamaqua Area school board?
Apparently not, voters said last week. Sure, Wittig was the lowest vote-getter of the 5 who won election last week but he won and rather comfortably over his closest competition.
And in the weeks since the U.S. Olympic team banned Wittig from the sport of rowing, the group opposed to arming teachers focused on Wittig and not as much on the seemingly bigger issue … the one with the longer-lasting implications.
Here’s just one post before the election. You can check out more by following the Facebook links on this post:
The group’s case basically says the obvious, how can you let a person like this around children today?
Well, that’s a decision voters in Tamaqua had to ask themselves for a couple years now, since first learning of the allegations. And they obviously said it didn’t matter enough to get him out of office. Also, the fact that Republicans basically dominated the election overall, didn’t make it any easier on the opposition here.
We’re not condoning the relationship Wittig had back in the early 1980s but it was also nearly 40 years ago. Again, it doesn’t make it right but it’s not right now.
Voters believe the most pressing issue facing schools today is safety, not Larry Wittig’s sex life. Or maybe they just didn’t want to vote for Democrats.