August 11, 2008

Counselor Pleads To Paraphernalia Possession

By Paul Franz

An enrollment counselor at J.P. McCaskey High School remains on the job after being convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia.

Steven Dinnocenti, 47, of the 600 block of West Chestnut Street, was arrested and charged April 14, 2007.

Dinnocenti pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor, in March of this year. According to the plea agreement, Dinnocenti was ordered to pay a $100 fine to cover court costs and was sentenced to one year of probation.

According to a police affidavit filed by the Lancaster Bureau of Police last year, Dinnocenti was observed "placing a glass pipe used for smoking crack cocaine up to his lips and lighting it" while sitting in the driver's seat of a parked gray BMW on North Pine Street in Lancaster city.

"Upon Dinnocenti noticing [Officer Andrew Mease] he quickly pulled the pipe from his lips and threw it to the floor," the affidavit continued. "Dinnocenti then rolled down the window and exhaled the smoke out the window."

The paraphernalia charge will be stricken from his record if he follows the terms of the probation sentence, which were not listed in the court sentencing order.

As of Thursday, Dinnocenti was employed as an enrollment counselor with the School District of Lancaster at J.P. McCaskey High School, according to district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder.

She declined to comment further, saying the case was a personnel matter.

Calls to Dinnocenti's phone number listed in the police affidavit were not returned.

Burkholder said the status of an employee convicted of a criminal charge depends on several factors, including the severity of the charges and provisions in the teachers' union contract.

"The practice of the district is to review each matter involving criminal charges with the [district] solicitor," she said.

There is no law requiring that the incident be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which handles the issuing of teaching certificates.

"There's nothing in the school code that would require the district to take action or to file a complaint with a professional standards commission," said Leah Harris, an assistant press secretary with the Department of Education. "It's the school district's responsibility to take that action if they feel it's necessary.

"They could be handling it in a different manner. There could be something going on that we're unaware of."

The department reviews cases of teachers suspected of violating its standards of "professional behavior."

"Standards of behavior reflect the manner in which educators should interact with students, colleagues and the community," the department Web site states.

An educator does not have to be charged with a crime to have his or her certificate revoked.

According to the department's Web site, Dinnocenti was certified to teach special education in 1987 and for secondary school counseling in 1998.

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