Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pictures of the Kids'

So the new principal at Tooele’s East Elementary has been named instructional principal of the year for the state of Utah (UAESP). Shanz Leonelli’s story is one of meteoric success that resonates with current news sorties coming out of high schools across the nation.

East Elementary is in need of some good leadership, and It is interesting that they saw the leadership they needed in native Tooelian Shanz Leonelli. I’ve written about Tooele’s East Elementary before; it is the partially open classroom building where one of the teachers was sexually abusing little boys during school hours. Maybe I should say “allegedly” sexually abusing little boys, but that sounds hollow given the fact that the abuser plead guilty and is serving a 30-year sentence in the state pen.

Tooele is a small city, but it does appear to cough up more than its fair share of stories about sexually-themed criminality with minors. Every once in a while the stories are interesting enough to bring them to national attention. So was the case with the child pornographers of Tooele High’s baseball team. Shanz Leonelli played a supporting role in that drama.

It was March 2004, and Shanz had taken the THS baseball team to a game in St George Utah. It was a long drive so the team was staying in the Bluffs Inn Motel on the night of March 11th. Somehow a group of boys including Shanz’s 18-year-old cousin Shane were able to convince a 15-year old girl shortly after their arrival to have “sexual contact” with a group of six of them until 4am. One of the 15-year old boys videotaped the encounter for posterity. In 2004 this apparently involved actual videotape and a camcorder; everyone smiled for the camera.

I guess it was the smiles that lead Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle to say that the actions were consensual despite the fact that the girl at 15 was younger than Utah’s age of consent.

"It appears from our looking at the videotape she was somewhat hesitant to begin with, but as time went on those barriers were broken down," he said while stressing again that the incidents were consensual. "There was no force, no threats." – Deseret News July 2 2004 quoting Deputy Tooele County Attorney Gary Searle

Of course I’m getting ahead of myself. The guys played baseball in St. George, and it is difficult to find out who won, and by how much. I’m not really sure who they played…besides the 15-year-old girl. Some time went by before a startled Tooele Mom walked in on her son as he was playing a video on their TV. I picture her uttering these fateful words: “whatcha watchin there?”

The video, which may or may not have had several copies made, had been at least partially viewed by many members of the THS baseball team. Now it was reaching a wider audience. It was given to a someone in the school system where it percolated to members of the superintendent’s office, and the police.

Shanz was not the only school system employee to have a family member in a starring role on the tape. Rumors that administrators in the school system traveled to St. George to meet with the girl surfaced. How long the tape may have sat in the possession of school administrators before getting to the police was questioned. The only thing that was apparently not questioned was that Shanz was a young teacher who had just four years of teaching experience, and he was a good person.

"Mr. Leonelli is a fine young teacher at THS, is of high moral character and of unquestioned ethical standing. All information available to us leads us to believe that his work as baseball coach at THS was appropriate and honorable." – Tooele School Board

Shanz resigned under the apparent direction of Larry Shumway who was then superintendant of the Tooele School District. Larry would eventually become superintendant of the entire state school system.

"It looks like the actions of the administration were appropriate" – Larry Shumway Tooele School District Superintendant 2004

Shanz also got a terrific outpouring of support from the community. People lambasted the actions of the girl suggesting that her mistakes should not taint the future lives of the players. Two of the players were 18 so they faced felony charges as adults.

Then the story hit the national news. Unlike the Steubenville case that has caught everyone’s attention this one had its moment in the spotlight, and then faded away (it is interesting to point out that the Stubenville victim was 16, and none of her attackers were 18 yet). Still, as I well know, any bit of national spotlight causes a deer in the headlights moment in Tooele. Eventually Sandy Sheppard (previous THS principal) would leave the Tooele school system with the cloud of the THS baseball team scandal haunting her.

So imagine my surprise when the relatively new teacher/coach who had resigned under a cloud of national shame resurfaced as principal of the local Elementary school. Then he quickly earns statewide recognition as principal of the year (instructional). What had he been doing during the tenure of his resignation that had garnered him such important experience?

Shanz apparently had been working as a photographer.

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