Pittenger to Decide



of The Mirror staff

The teaching fate of 21-year-old Joseph Acanfora passed into the hands of the state Secretary of Education Tuesday after a six-man panel of college deans were unable to decide if Penn State could attest to his “moral character.”

Secretary of Education John Pittenger told The Mirror Tuesday that documents on the deliberations of the University Teacher Certification Council (UTCC) were hand-delivered to him that morning after the deans remained evenly split on the morality question.

The Pennsylvania School Code provides that a candidate for certification must present to the state “satisfactory evidence of good moral character,’’ evidence which traditionally has come in the form of a recommendation from the college or university which the candidate is attending.

The question of the Brick Town, N.J., man’s morality arose out of an equity suit which he and three other students filed last winter against Penn State on behalf of the homosexuality education group, the Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS).

At that time, Acanfora was student-teaching at Park Forest Junior High School -- an assignment for which he was removed and subsequently reinstated by court order.

In mid-May, Dean of the College of Education Abraham VanderMeer informed Acanfora that the matter of Penn State’s recommendation to the state had been turned over to the six-man certification board.

After about two months of deliberation -- with the UTCC deadlocked at three deans favoring a recommendation and three deans opposing it -- the whole affair went to Pittenger.

The education secretary said Tuesday that the Acanfora certification question raised “many terribly complicated legal questions,” some of which held constitutional overtones.

Pittenger said he had “no idea” how to proceed on the case. “First of all the, particular problem is new,” he said, “and secondly, in the six months that I’ve been here, I’ve never had a case come to me with no recommendation from the college.”

A decision on the procedure for deciding the Acanfora case, Pittenger said, will not be made until after he confers with Attorney General J. Shane Creamer and until he returns from a national education secretary’s conference.

Acanfora, who was graduated from Penn State in June with the certification question unanswered, said he was both “disappointed” and “heartened a little” by the UTCC deadlock.

“The grapevine among students in the college (of education) had it that a case that went before that board was a lost case from the beginning,” Acanfora said. “I’m heartened that the deans didn’t rubber-stamp a ‘no’ on my case.”

Dean VanderMeer said he would “not comment on a particular student case. It is a policy the university follows out of respect to the student and everyone else involved.”

Penn State officials have in the past said that instances of recommendations being placed in the hands of the UTCC are “pretty rare,” and instances of Penn State not recommending certification for a seemingly qualified graduate are “rarer still -- but it happens.”

Acanfora’s attorney, Leonard Sharon of Pittsburgh, said Tuesday night that his law firm learned of the latest turn of events from Penn State attorney Delbert McQuaide Tuesday afternoon.

Sharon said he hoped Acanfora would be given the opportunity to present his case to Pittenger before any decision would be reached.