TAMAQUA, Pa. — Within 24 hours of being accused of past sexual misconduct, Larry Wittig resigned as president of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, was removed from the president’s leadership council at Drexel University, and was asked to give up his seat on the board of trustees at Philadelphia University-Thomas Jefferson University.
But in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, where Wittig has been president of the school board for 23 years, it is business as usual.
At a Tuesday night board meeting presided over by Wittig, there was no discussion from board members or the public of the women who say Wittig pursued sexual relationships with them when they were teens and he was their coach. After adjourning the meeting, Wittig said no one has asked him to resign, and he has no plans to.
“Absolutely not,” a visibly agitated Wittig said. “And that’s it. End of conversation.”
Last month, the Inquirer and Daily News reported that a number of women said Wittig sought out sexual relationships with them in the early 1980s, when they were rowers at Harriton High School in Lower Merion and he was in his early 30s and married. The team practiced at Vesper Boat Club, where Wittig was a member.
One of the women, 53-year-old Annette DeMichele, said she was 17 when Wittig took her to a nude beach while they were at a competition in San Diego the week after her high school graduation. She said they had a year-and-a-half sexual relationship that continued while she rowed at the University of Pennsylvania and he coached there.
Wittig resigned from that position in 1984 amid an ombudsman’s investigation into, among other things, his relationship with DeMichele.
Another woman, who asked to not be named, said she had an approximately two-year sexual relationship with Wittig that started when she was 16 and he was 29.
When he was 21, Wittig was charged with raping a 15-year-old friend of his sister’s. A Schuylkill County jury found him not guilty. The woman, when reached by the Inquirer and Daily News, stood by her testimony at trial.
Wittig, a Republican who was appointed to the state board of education in 2001, served as chairman from 2011 until his resignation last month.
When contacted about allegations made by DeMichele and others, Wittig said he “categorically denied” the women’s accounts. After the article detailing the allegations was published, he told the Lehighton Times News that he did have sex with DeMichele, describing it as a “lapse in judgment at one time” and not “an ongoing relationship” as she contended.
During a brief interview after Tuesday’s board meeting, Wittig called the Inquirer and Daily News article “slanted and biased,” but did not answer repeated questions about what parts of the women’s claims were inaccurate.
He pointed to the board members and bystanders around him and said he has been supported by his community.
“Talk to these people here,” he told a reporter. “Knock yourself out.”
Ray Kinder, superintendent of the Tamaqua Area School District, declined to comment on the allegations, but said he had not heard from any parents seeking Wittig’s resignation.
“I can only say Mr. Wittig has always done a good job when he’s been our board president,” he said. “He’s a publicly elected official. It really isn’t up to me.”
Thomas Rottet, the board’s vice president, said he had “zero concerns” about Wittig’s remaining president of the board.
“I’ve known Larry for over 20 years. I don’t know a guy that has more character or integrity than Larry,” he said. “I don’t know what happened 36 or 40 years ago.”
Rottet said he “glanced over the article.” Asked if he thought the women quoted in it had lied, he said he had “no idea.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I have no reason to believe they did, but on the other hand I have a lot of faith in the character of the man I’ve known for the last 20 years.”