Former Ringgold guidance counselor accused of sex assault faces trial
A former Ringgold High School guidance counselor accused of having sex with an 18-year-old student was ordered Friday to stand trial in Westmoreland County court.
Lianne Danko, 33, of Rolling Hill Farm Drive, Rostraver, is charged with four counts of institutional sexual assault.
Danko, who was arrested May 21, appeared for a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso in Monessen. Defense attorney David J. Shrager told The Valley Independent he will fight the constitutionality of the law under which Danko was charged.
Shrager said the law is vague.
Shrager said the law does not stipulate high school alone and could be construed to permit prosecution of a college professor having a sexual relationship with a student.
As an example, Shrager cited the possibility of a 50-year-old night school student being involved with a professor his or her own age.
“Is that rape?” Shrager asked. “That's school. The law does not say high school.”
Shrager said he was pleased with the results of the hearing.
“We were able to get some important information. We may have discovered some potential bias by the witness,” Shrager said of the alleged victim.
“He may be receiving some protection from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.”
The Valley Independent does not identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
He declined to comment further, suggesting that information will come out at a later date.
The alleged victim testified that the relationship began in the high school, where he went to his guidance counselor – Danko – for advice.
He testified that he and Danko ended up kissing in her office, according to WPXI -TV, The Valley Independent's news partner.
“She said I was handsome,” the student testified. “We kissed a couple of times in the guidance office. We both wanted to hang out, so she picked a place and we met there.”
Police said the two had sex twice last fall at a park-and-ride lot at the intersection of state Route 201 and Pricedale Road in Rostraver.
The initial incident occurred during a November weekend.
Police said Danko exited her vehicle, got into the front passenger seat of the student's vehicle and performed a sex act.
Police said the two met there a week later and again engaged in sexual activity in the vehicle. Danko allegedly told the student to not tell anyone about the encounter or she could lose her job.
When prosecutors asked Friday what they did, the student testified they “talked, kissed and touched.”
The student testifed,“We had sex. She told me that she trusted me, and that she had to get home to her kids,” WPXI reported.
Danko, who is not married, has two children, ages 3 and 5.
In February, Ringgold Superintendent Dr. Karen Polkabla confirmed to The Valley Independent that district officials were investigating purported “inappropriate contact” between an employee and a high school student. She called the issue “a personnel matter.”
In a statement to parents on the district website, Polkabla said the employee had been removed from district property and was ordered to have no contact with students.
On Feb. 26 during a special meeting, the Ringgold School Board accepted Danko's resignation “under terms discussed in executive session.”
Polkabla declined to specify the terms to a Valley Independent reporter.
Danko remained free on bond Friday.
“This is obviously devastating,” Shrager said. “She's accused of a pretty embarrassing and negative thing. She took pleasure in being a member of the school community, and that's over for her.”