Tribune-Review, May 12, 2000

Christian School Principal and Teacher Face Abuse Charges
By Daniel Reynolds

The principal of a Christian school and a teacher face charges after they beat an 11-year-old student with a fiberglass rod so hard it broke the child's skin, police said.

Wilkins Township police said Stephen Lazzaro, principal of Faith Christian School, and teacher Stephanie Galda administered the punishment because the unidentified fifth-grader submitted an inadequate homework assignment.

"As far as we're concerned, it went a little too far, but that's up to the courts to decide," Wilkins Township police Chief Bill Wilson said Thursday.

Lazzaro, 45, of Thompson Street, Turtle Creek, was charged with aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy. Galda, 35, of 10th Street, Sharpsburg, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and criminal conspiracy.

Galda held the boy down because he was struggling while being struck, police said.

The two face a preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. June 7 before District Justice Frank Comunale of Forest Hills.

A report by Patrolman Jon Sherman indicates that the blows broke the skin of the boy's upper right leg and caused bruises. The unidentified youth was treated and released March 27 at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville, police said.

Galda brought the boy to Lazzaro's office for "disciplinary actions for an unacceptable homework assignment" about 9:30 a.m. March 27, police said.

The teacher and the principal decided the punishment would be paddling, according to the report. Lazzaro told Sherman he intended to hit the boy four times on the buttocks. He said he used the rod because he thought it would cause less damage, according to police.

Lazzaro and Galda did not respond to requests for comment.

"The Bible tells us to use the rod," said Linda Baxter of Turtle Creek as she waited to pick up two children at the school. Baxter said the well-documented troubles of today's children stem from a lack of discipline.

"We need to bring God back in," Baxter said. "We love this school."

Her daughter, Jennifer Baxter, 16, a ninth-grader at Faith Christian, also praised the school.

"This school provides a lot of love," she said. "They are strict with their rules. If you disobey, you suffer the consequences."

Meredith Lazzaro, the principal's daughter who is in her second year at the University of Pittsburgh, said her father is not abusive.

"He's not a tough guy; he only used the rod when he felt he couldn't get the child to listen," she said.

The Rev. Gary LaPietra, pastor of Faith Bible Baptist Church, which subsidizes the school, said parents of all students sign a release allowing corporal punishment when school officials determine it is necessary.

"It's not something that's done off the cuff. It's difficult for me to believe that he acted compulsively," LaPietra said.

The pastor said the boy's mother complained to him the day after the paddling and later withdrew her son from the school. However, the boy's sister still attends the school, LaPietra said.

"We're not hiding anything," he said.

The school has 69 pupils in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Al Bowman of the state Department of Education.

"They are considered a nonpublic, nonlicensed school," Bowman said. Bowman said schools such as Faith Christian must register with the state to certify that they comply with the school code.

The school was first registered with the state in the 1978-79 school year, according to Bowman.

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