Lawsuit Claims Franklin School District Failed to Protect Girl from Being Sexually Abused by Teacher

| March 9, 2019

FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – A lawsuit filed in federal court against Franklin Area School District, Superintendent Pamela Dye, and Junior-Senior High School Principal Christina Cohlhepp alleges the district created a climate in which former teacher Kyle Askins could “prey upon” a girl he was convicted of sexually abusing.

The civil complaint was filed March 1 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by attorneys Wayne H. Hundertmark, of Franklin, and Robert Varsek, of Oil City. They are representing two plaintiffs whose names are being withheld to help protect the identity of the victim.

Allegations within the suit are centered around an ongoing relationship and “a long course of inappropriate physical contact” between teacher Kyle Askins and 13-year-old female student during the 2016-2017 school year.

Askins is also named in the lawsuit.

After pleading guilty in November 2017 to one first-degree felony count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 16 years of age, Kyle Askins, of Franklin, was ordered to serve 54 months to a maximum of 20 years in state prison. He is currently incarcerated at SCI Waymart in Wayne County.

Askins was 25 years old at the time of the incidents and beginning his second year of employment with Franklin Area School District as a health/physical education teacher and coach.

Askins Develops Relationship with Victim

According to the complaint, Askins “interjected himself and assumed the role as a personal confidant for the victim, paying more attention to her under the pretense of providing her emotional support through her grief and bereavement.”

The suit notes that the girl was grieving the death of two family members around the time of the abuse.

Askins “enticed and solicited (the girl)” to come to his classroom at the beginning of the school day and his separate office both prior to the beginning of, and after, normal school/class hours,” according to the complaint.

The suit notes that Askins did not have the girl as a student during this time.

“After the mid-winter break during the 2016-2017 school year, (the girl) spent more and more time with Askins alone in his office and other areas of the Franklin Middle School building and facilities after other students were dismissed,” according to the complaint.

It was at this time that Askins “commenced a course of action to sexually abuse and sexually assault” his victim.

In early 2017, the lawsuit says, Askins also engaged in “open, notorious and obvious contact” with (the girl), and engaged in physical contact with her behind his desk during home room on a “near-daily basis,” all on middle school property in the immediate proximity of other students and school faculty.

The complaint states that Askins bought gifts for the girl on Valentine’s Day in 2017. He gave the gifts to the girl in his office, outside of regular school hours, at which time “he expressed his love for (the girl) and subjected her to intimate physical contact.”

“By the second half of the 2016-2017 (school year), it became widely known by both the student body and faculty in the Franklin Middle School that Askins and (the girl) shared a mutual affection for each other that exceeded a professional teacher-pupil relationship,” the complaint states.

Parents Express Concern to School District

The lawsuit alleges that on one or more occasions during the 2016-2017 school year, faculty at the middle school approached Cohlhepp to “alert her to the fact that Askins was spending an inordinate amount of time with (the girl), and expressed their concern that Askins’ level of contact and relationship with (the girl) appeared over-familiar and inappropriate.”

After being approached by middle school faculty who were concerned about the girl’s relationship with Askins and learning of Askins’ Valentine’s Day gifts to the girl, the girl’s parents met with Cohlhepp on two occasions in March 2017 to express their alarm and concerns over Askins’ involvement with their daughter, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, the girl’s parents discussed the following items with Cohlhepp during the meetings:

  • Valentine’s Day gifts he gave their minor daughter in violation of the District’s policies governing adult/student boundaries;
  • (Their daughter) spending an inordinate amount of time alone with Askins after other students were dismissed and released from (redacted – editorial decision), even on days (the girl) did not attend school – a violation of the District’s policies;
  • The physical closeness and contact between Askins and (the girl) both during school hours and (redacted – editorial decision), and the general over-familiarity between teacher and pupil, which included (the girl) always referring to Askins by his first name;
  • The fact that other middle school faculty had contacted (the parents) to express their concerns over Askins’ relationship with their minor daughter; and
  • The fact that Askins appeared at extracurricular, non-school-sanctioned events to spend time with (the girl).

The complaint says the girl’s parents also expressed concerns to Cohlhepp, that “Askins’ actions toward (their daughter) displayed grooming behavior, and exposed (their daughter) to victimization in light of her delicate emotional vulnerability that followed their tragic family circumstance.”

The complaint alleges that Cohlhepp downplayed Askins’ behavior by stating that Askins was a “good guy”; “a new and inexperienced young teacher who just needs more training about boundaries with students”; and that the District could not control what teachers, and specifically Askins, did with students outside of school.

At the conclusion of their meetings, Cohlhepp re-assured the girl’s parents that she and Superintendent Dye would investigate the matter; counsel Askins on the inappropriate nature of gift-giving to students; closely monitor the situation; and keep Askins and their daughter separated during school hours.

“Despite being on notice of these admonitions and alleged concerns, Askins continued to have contact and spend time with (the girl) during the regular school hours,” according to the complaint.

Askins continued to engage in sexual contact with the girl, both in his office in the Franklin Middle School building and outside of school property.

The complaint states that the girl’s parents were again approached by middle school faculty with concerns that the level of contact between Askins and their daughter had not decreased, and were advised to seek the intervention of other administrators in the District to address the situation.

According to the lawsuit, the district “refused to conduct a thorough investigation of their allegations, and failed to take any meaningful action to discipline Askins, or to otherwise prevent his further abuse of (the girl). As a consequence, Askins was enabled to persist in his pattern of abuse toward the emotionally vulnerable (student).”

State Police Begin Investigation

In May 2017, the Pennsylvania State Police in Franklin investigated Askins’ sexually abusive conduct toward the girl. As a result of the investigation, Askins was charged with several crimes related to his conduct, including involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, interference with custody of children, corruption of minors and indecent assault.

As part of a plea deal, Askins pleaded guilty in August 2017 to one first-degree felony count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 16 years of age.

All other charges were dropped in exchange for his plea.

Allegations Outlined

According to the complaint, the District “was responsible to protect (the girl) against, and not to engage in, any unlawful violations of (the girl’s) rights secured under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, including violations of her right to be free of improper and illegal intrusions upon the integrity of her body and person.”

The lawsuit alleges that District “knew, or was on actual notice, that Askins had propensities to sexually abuse (the girl) and other female students and also had actual prior notice of ongoing improper contacts and relationship by Askins with (the girl) that posed a significant threat to the health, safety, and welfare of (the girl) and the student body.”


Other allegations within the suit include:

  • ”There existed in the District, a custom, practice and/or policy of deliberate indifference to and/or concealment of instances of known improper contacts and relationship by Askins with (the girl) known sexual assaults upon and abuse of Askins with (the girl).”
  • ”This custom, practice and/or policy of deliberate indifference to and/or concealment of instances of known improper contacts and relationship by Askins with (the girl) and known sexual assaults upon and abuse of (the girl) by Askins occurred during the 2016-2017 school year.”
  • ”Administrative representatives of the District received numerous complaints about the relationship between Askins and (the girl); Despite these complaints, neither the District nor its representatives did anything to prevent the sexual assaults upon (the girl) by Askins;
  • Askins had improper contact with (the girl), including improper touching in the public eye, that was not stopped or corrected;
  • ”Representatives of the District advised the parents of (the girl) that they acknowledged their complaints about the situation and would investigate them, but did nothing to further or assist the investigation;”
  • ”Representatives of the District, including the superintendent and the middle school principal, did not advise law enforcement of the situation to further any investigation of the matter;”
  • ”The middle school principal was informed by middle school faculty that Askins continued to have contact with (the girl) at the middle school and did nothing to prevent contact between the two, despite the fact that she had knowledge of an improper relationship which the District failed to thoroughly investigate;”
  • ”The District, through its representatives, permitted Askins to have continuing contact with (the girl) despite complaints of an improper relationship with a student lodged against Askins by other faculty;
  • ”The District’s representatives, including the superintendent and middle school principal, not only did not prevent or deter contact between Askins and (the girl) but also permitted Askins and (the girl) to be alone together after receiving complaints about the relationship between the two;”
  • ”The District’s representatives confronted and warned Askins about his relationship with (the girl), but took no steps to ensure it did not continue;”
  • ”The District did not suspend and/or terminate Askins given the information that existed or pending an investigation; and
  • ”The District, with knowledge of the complaints against Askins, allowed him to have contact with (the girl) before and after regular school hours in the later portion of the 2016-2017 school year, during which period he sexually abused and assaulted (the girl).”



The suit also refers various “failures or oversights” by the District that resulted in the violation of the girl’s constitutional rights. 
The complaint states that the District permitted Askins to remain in charge of extracurricular student activities despite knowledge that Askins presented a significant threat to the health, safety and welfare of the student participants. 

It also alleges that the District failed to advise law enforcement of Askins’ conduct in a timely manner.

“As a direct and proximate result of the aforesaid customs, practices and/or policies of the District, (the girl) was deprived of her rights, privileges and immunities secured by the constitution or laws of the United States, specifically her liberty interest and interest in personal bodily integrity and freedom from sexual assault and abuse guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” according to the complaint.

The complaint continues, “As a further proximate result of the customs, practices and/or policies of the District, (the girl and her parents) have suffered in the past, and will continue to suffer in the future.”

“Due to the District’s intentional acts and maintenance of customs and policies alleged hereinabove, (the girl) was subjected to gender-based harassment, abuse and inappropriate physical contact by Askins, suffering the relevant harms averred above.”

Specific Allegations Against Dye and Cohlhepp

Specific allegations against Dye and Cohlhepp include:

  • ”Prior to some of the unlawful sexual assaults committed upon the (the girl), Defendants Cohlhepp and Dye, jointly and/or severally, had received notice that Askins had an improper relationship with (the girl).”
  • ”Prior to some of the unlawful sexual assaults committed upon (the girl), Defendants Cohlhepp and Dye, jointly and/or severally, received notice that (the girl) was spending an inordinate amount of time with Askins and was in his classroom and office on occasions when she should not be there.”
  • ”Prior to some of the unlawful sexual assaults committed upon (the girl), Defendants Cohlhepp and Dye, had discussions with Askins and/or (the girl) regarding the numerous inappropriate contacts that Askins was having with (the girl) and the inordinate amount of time that Askins was spending with (the girl).
  • ”Prior to some of the unlawful sexual assaults committed upon (the girl), Defendants Cohlhepp and Dye had received complaints from other faculty of the District of the inordinate amount of time that Askins was spending with (the girl).”
  • ”Prior to some of the sexual assaults committed upon (the girl) and after receiving complaints, Defendants Cohlhepp and Dye allowed or condoned Askins’ continued contact in the middle school with (the girl).”

The complaint goes on to state, “Based upon the notice of Askins’ conduct received by these defendants, described in the paragraphs set forth above, the defendants were aware, prior to some of the actual sexual assaults upon (the girl), that there existed a substantial risk that Askins, in his capacity as coach and extracurricular activities coordinator/supervisor, would seek improper and/or unlawful relationships with the female students at the Franklin Middle School and specifically with (the girl).”

It alleges that Dye and Cohlhepp jointly and/or separately “adopted and implemented a plan, policy or custom that facilitated or allowed improper, inappropriate and unprofessional and illegal contacts between Askins and (the girl).”

“By failing and/or refusing to investigate inappropriate and unprofessional conduct by Askins, and by refusing and/or failing to initiate effective remedial action for such conduct, and by sanctioning, permitting and authorizing Askins to continue to have frequent, close and unsupervised contact with female students, including (the girl), in connection with the both curricular and extracurricular functions for the District, Defendants Cohlhepp and Dye, jointly and/or severally, acted to create a substantial danger that (the girl) would be subjected to continuing improper and illegal sexual assaults by Askins,” according to the complaint.

Allegations Against Askins, Victim Impact



While the lawsuit mainly focuses on the District and its administrators, it does present two new allegations against Askins.



According to the complaint, Askins violated the girl’s civil and constitutional rights when he took advantage of his role. The complaint cites violations of due process and equal protection, among others.

The complaint states that these violations and Askins’ actions resulted in the girl and her parents suffering harm and damages.

“As a result of the outrageous abuse she suffered at Askins’ hands, (the girl) has sustained severe harm, including, but not limited to, severe emotional distress and anxiety, depression and social withdrawal, including withdrawal from affectionate contact with her parents and family members, disruption of her ability to enjoy life’s pleasures, and destruction of her sense of safety and well-being,” according to the complaint.

The complaint continues, “As a further result of the abuse she suffered at Askins’ hands, and the deliberately indifferent reaction to the (the parent’s) complaints by the other defendants, (the girl’s) academic performance and behavioral conduct have deteriorated, and she has suffered a significant interference with her ability to learn and otherwise enjoy the benefits of education and educational services of the district, to her permanent detriment.”

The complaint notes that the harm suffered has resulted in the girl’s parents incurring expenses related to treatment, education at an alternative school district, and “other means of abating the deleterious effects of the abuse.”

Suit Calls for Punitive Damages, Jury Trial

The plaintiff’s in the case are asking a jury to award general and compensatory damages against all named defendants and punitive damages against Askins.

“Askins’ intentional conduct was outrageous and wanton, and committed in total, reckless disregard for (the girl’s) well-being and the laws intended to protect her and similarly situated children, including the criminal laws of Pennsylvania proscribing indecent and sexual assault and corruption of minors, thereby warranting the imposition of punitive damages,” according to the complaint.

Attorneys fees and other related legal costs are also being requested.

The defendants have until March 22 to respond to the lawsuit.

Calls to Franklin Area School District for comment were not immediately returned.


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