PLAINS TWP. — A former Pittston Area math teacher and one-time head girls basketball coach faces criminal charges for an alleged romance with a 17-year-old student that progressed from texting to restaurant dates and turned sexual when the girl’s guardian was away on vacation.
Colleen McGarry, 45, of Pine Street, Pittston, was arraigned Tuesday in front of Magisterial District Judge Joseph Spagnuolo Jr. on felony charges of having sexual contact with a student, unlawful contact with a minor and corruption of minors, as well as five misdemeanor counts of furnishing alcohol to minors.
McGarry, who taught 11th and 12th grade math, was fired in May after previously having been suspended pending investigations by the school district and the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office.
School district solicitor Sam Falcone on Tuesday did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
According the affidavit, Luzerne County Children & Youth Services contacted the district attorney’s office Feb. 24 regarding a tip that McGarry was having a “romantic relationship” with a 17-year-old female student. The agency, the affidavit says, received information students had seen McGarry at restaurants with the victim and had read text messages between the two.
McGarry allegedly said she didn’t believe sharing a meal with the student was wrong.
“I didn’t think it was much of a big deal to be taking out a kid,” McGarry told investigators the next day, noting members of school clubs are taken out to eat “all the time” and opining the lines between student and teacher are muddied by the prevalence of technology.
It is a “strange time” in society, the former teacher said, according to the affidavit.
McGarry, who was hired in 1997, told investigators she took the student “under my wing a little bit” because she was forced to grow up in a single-parent household and didn’t have much of a home life. Their relationship began to take a more personal turn when the student began confiding in her in late 2015, she said.
The two began texting each other and talking through social media, and a physical relationship was sparked shortly after the student confessed her feelings for McGarry while they were in a parked car together around Christmas, the affidavit says.
McGarry admitted during the interview to having sexual contact with the victim, whom the longtime teacher said “had a crush on her,” according to the affidavit. The teacher also allegedly admitted to being nervous while spending the night at the student’s home when the girl’s guardian was out of town.
“Obviously, nothing was supposed to come of it,” the student told investigators of sharing her feelings to McGarry.
The student told investigators she confided in McGarry about her sexual orientation and stated the they often discussed prior sexual relationships. She and McGarry would kiss every time they saw one another, but the extent of their physical relationship stopped short of penetration, the student said.
McGarry is also charged with furnishing alcohol to underage students during a January party at the victim’s home, according to the affidavit.
McGarry’s hiring drew criticism after she received a full-time teaching job the day she received her bachelor’s degree from Wilkes University. McGarry, 26 at the time, was selected over several district substitutes on a 6-3 vote by the school board.
A resume provided to the Times Leader at the time indicated McGarry was a tutor at South Scranton Intermediate School and the varsity basketball coach for North Pocono High School prior to her hire.
McGarry, a former Seton Catholic and Wilkes University standout, was named head girls basketball coach in 1998. She was succeeded as head girls basketball coach in 2006 and resigned as coach of the girl’s softball team in 2012, according to the Times Leader archives.
Court records show she was jailed at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in leiu of $100,000 bail.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 21 before Spagnuolo.
Times Leader staffers Thomas Moriarty and Aimee Dilger contributed to this report.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-611o or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL