Joseph Ohrt was long regarded in the Central Bucks School District as a talented and highly respected choir director who shaped the successful music program at Central Bucks High School West for decades.
It was only last year his most famous student,superstar Pink, gave him and his students a viral shoutout on Twitter when they made a video tribute to the singer who grew up in Doylestown and spent time in high schoolin Ohrt's choir in the mid-1990s.
It was also in the 1990s that police now say Ohrt groped two young students of the district in separate incidents, including one allegation that he inappropriately touched a sixth-grade student while the child was working in the music room on the piano.
Police said Ohrt was not removed from the district after the victim and the child's mother reported it to a district principal and guidance counselor. Instead, Ohrt was transferred from Linden Elementary School to Central Bucks West.
Exclusive for subscribers:Central Bucks board member: District reported choir director accused of groping boys in 2016. He remained at CB West until 2021
Here's what we know, and what we don't, about the developing criminal case:
What are the allegations and charges against Ohrt
Ohrt, 56, of Buckingham,was charged this week with indecent assault of a person less than 14;indecent assault of a person less than 16; and two counts of corruption of a minor for the decades-old cases.
He also was charged in February withpossessing a device for intercepting communications, intercepting communications, tampering with evidence and invasion of privacy, after police said he used a hidden camera to take video of a former student, now an adult, changing at hishome
The indecent assault charges stem from allegations that Ohrt molested two separate students during the 1991-92 and 1995-96 school years. Those victims, police said, came forward after the February charges were made public.
More:DA: CB West Choir teacher secretly filmed former student undressing
The 1991 case occurred at Linden Elementary when authorities allege Ohrt had an 11-year-old sit on his lap during a piano lesson in the music room and then touched the child inappropriately under his clothing.
The 1995 case occurred at Ohrt's home police said. A 13-year-old student was babysitting and when Ohrt returned he groped the boy, police said.
More:DA: Former CB West choir director molested 2 students; district moved him from elementary to high school after first allegation
Where did Ohrt work in Central Bucks and when
Ohrtz worked at Kutz Elementary from 1987 until 1988, Linden Elementary from 1988 until 1992, Tamenend Middle School and Buckingham Elementary from 1988 until 1989, Gayman Elementary School from 1990 to 1991, and Doyle Elementary in 1989 to 1990 and 1991 to 1992.
He taught at Central Bucks West from 1992 until 2021, however he also taught at Unami Middle School from 1992 to 1993 and Titus Elementary from 1993 until 1994. He went on a year sabbatical in 2000. Ohrt became choir director in 1992 at CB West.
He was also involved with summer camps at Cold Spring Elementary and Central Bucks High School South in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Ohrt is out on leave from Central Bucks
Ohrt is on leave until he is set to retire June 10. His retirement was accepted by the district's board of directors on Dec. 6, according to district spokeswoman Angela Linch.
Linch said he entered a leave of absence on Oct. 26.Ohrt was making $110,963 in the 2019-20 school year,according to openpa.gov school teacher salary records.
Ohrt is out on bail after posting 10% of $100,000 bail.
Will Ohrt lose his state pension?
At this point, its likely Ohrt will still get his state pension, even if he is convicted of indecent assault charges involving two underage students. The alleged sexual abuse occurred in 1991 and 1995, which is before sexual criminal charges were added to the list of offenses where a conviction triggers a pension forfeiture under Act 140.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in `1993, though, ruled that new pension forfeiture rules can be applied to current employees if they accept new employment conditions and terms. The law, itself, states that breaks in service also constitute a termination and renewal of the pension contract.
Under the 1978 Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, public employees and their beneficiaries lose all accumulated employer contributions and investment earnings on those contributions after they are convicted of certain specific offenses under the state crimes code when the crimes are related to their job duties.
A school employee who commits a forfeitable offense in the course of their job and then retires before being convicted can still lose their pension.
Employees are allowed to receive the contributions they paid into the pension fund without interest. But even employee contributions may be lost because they can be used to pay fines and restitution associated with the criminal conviction, under the law.
Ohrt still holds a valid teacher's certificate in PA
Ohrt has been certified to teach music in Pennsylvania public schools since 1993 and has had no prior disciplinary actions against him by the state, according to information on the Department of Education website.
While Ohrt’s certificate is currently listed as valid on the Teacher Information Management System, the education department’s website states any information on disciplinary hearings or investigations are kept confidential until action against the teacher has been taken.
“Under the Educator Discipline Act, all information relating to a disciplinary proceeding, including the complaint, is confidential until public discipline is actually imposed. In the event that a complaint is dismissed or that the proceeding is resolved in favor of the educator, the Act prohibits disclosure of any information,” the department’s website states.
That same law also requires “local school entities” to file a mandatory report if an educator is “arrested or convicted of any crime that is graded misdemeanor or felony,” the website continues.
WhyOhrt was allowed to continue working in Central Bucks
Police said the allegation from the Linden Elementary sixth-grader and the child's mother was reported to the school principal and a guidance counselor shortly after it happened. It is unclear if that allegation was reported to the Bucks County District Attorney's Office or the Doylestown Borough Police Department by the district or the family. The police department no longer exists as it merged with other small departments in 2014 and became the Central Bucks Regional Police Department.
The school district did not return calls and emails seeking information Tuesday, but put out a statement. The regional force said it could not release any additional information due to the ongoing investigation. This news organization has filed right-to-know requests under the state law for any documents on complaints filed or previous investigations.
The principal and superintendent at the time of the allegations are no longer with the Central Bucks district since they both retired many years ago.
What we don't know about the Ohrt case
Questions remain as the criminal caseswill now wind their way through the courts.The investigation continues, police said. Some unanswered questions include:
- Why was the 1991 allegation not reported to the state Department of Education
- Why was Ohrt not removed from the district, but transferred to CB West when the allegation was made
- Who investigated the allegation after it was reported by the alleged victim and the child's motherto the Linden school principal and counselor
- Were the 1991 and 1995 allegations ever reported to police before this year
- Are there other victims
- Whattype of "leave" -- and is it paid or unpaid -t Ohrt is currently out on.
- Can the CBSD school board rescind its approval of his retirement application
The DA's office is asking any other victims to come forward. Anyone with information may call Central Bucks Regional Police at 215-345-4143 or county detectives at 215-348-6354. Tips may also be sent through the DA's office CrimeWatch page at Bucksda.org
A timeline of the case against Ohrt
- 1991-92: Ohrt allegedly molests an 11-year-old student at Linden Elementary. The incident is reported to the school principal and a guidance counselor, but it is unknown if the incident is ever reported to police.
- 1992: Ohrt is transferred from Linden Elementary to Central Bucks West.
- 1995: Ohrt allegedly molests a 13-year-old student at his home, then in Doylestown, while the boy was babysitting.
- 2016: Central Bucks School District files a report with ChildLine about sexual abuse allegations against Ohrt. The allegations are deemed unfounded and no action is taken against Ohrt.
- May 9, 2021: A second ChildLine report is filed against Ohrt, prompting an investigation by Bucks County detectives. It's unknown who filed the report, but it involves the same alleged victim as 2016.
- Sept. 30, 2021: Detectives visit Ohrt's home to talk with him about the allegations. He is not home and they leave a business card.
- Oct. 26, 2021: Ohrt begins a leave of absence from the Central Bucks School District.
- Oct. 29, 2021: A man who had been living at Ohrt's home brings Ohrt's computer to Central Bucks Regional police, saying that Ohrt asked him to destroy it.
- Feb. 8, 2022: Ohrt is charged with using hidden cameras to film a former student undressing in his home. The footage was found on the computer Ohrt had asked to be destroyed, police say.
- March 8, 2022: Ohrt is charged with molesting the two students in 1991 and 1995. The victims contacted investigators after the February charges were announced.
- June 10, 2022: Effective date of Ohrt's retirement from the Central Bucks School District.
What is Ohrt's connection to Pink?
Ohrt was singer Alecia Moore's choir teacher in the mid 1990s. She was photographed as a member of the school choir in 1996. The Doylestown native, however, did not graduate from the school as she left early to pursue her music career.
Last year, the CB West choir made a tribute video, with Ohrt credited as conductor, for the singer. She saw it and tweeted about Ohrt and the students.
"Mr. Ohrt was my high school choir teacher. His famous quote to me was, 'Alecia, it’s not a solo,’”Pink shared on Twitterwith laugh emojis.“It brought me to tears! You all sound amazing and I’m totally overwhelmed with love.”
More:CB West choir brought hometown favorite Pink 'to tears.' Here's what happened
At the time, he told this news organization he had the photo she autographed for him before she left the school.
Pink wrote: “To the greatest man on earth.”
Staff writers Christopher Dornblaser, Chris Ullery and Jo Ciavaglia contributed to this report and will continue to work on this developing story. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org