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Embattled Parkland administrator gave testimony in sex-abuse lawsuit by former students

Parkland Anonia
Inset Photo/Parkland School District and Donna S. Fisher For LehighValleyNews.com
Francis “Frank” Anonia has been Parkland’s director of visual and performing arts since 2021.

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — A Parkland School District administrator who is the subject of an internal investigation was deposed in a lawsuit that alleges the district knew another teacher was sexually assaulting students but did nothing to stop it, LehighValleyNews.com has learned.

School district officials have not commented about the investigation or the job status of Frank Anonia, who until April was the district’s director of performing arts. His name, photo and job title have been removed from the school district website.

Anonia provided testimony April 17 as part of a lawsuit by five former students against the Parkland School District, Palisades School District and former teacher and soccer coach Christian Willman, said the plaintiffs’ attorney Stewart Ryan.

Anonia’s April deposition came about a week before Superintendent Mark Madson confirmed Anonia was under investigation in an email obtained by LehighValleyNews.com.

It also came a week after 29-year-old William Marshall, who lived with Anonia, was sentenced in Lehigh County to 11½ to 23 months in county prison for possessing child pornography. Marshall is a former student of Anonia.

Neither Madson nor district spokeswoman Nicole McGalla have responded to questions or publicly addressed Anonia’s absence from work or the reasons why.

A LehighValleyNews.com review of school board meeting recordings and minutes from April and May found no mention of Anonia or disciplinary action against any employee.

School Board President Carol Facchiano also has not responded to several requests for comment.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed in July 2020, alleges that Parkland officials “knew or should have known” Willman was sexually assaulting students when he was employed by the district between 2001 and 2011.

It alleges teachers reported Willman's inappropriate interactions with girls to the Parkland administration, but the teachers were “not only ignored but in fact retaliated against themselves.”

Three of the former students suing the districts are from Parkland and two are from Palisades. Willman left Parkland and went to work for Palisades in 2011, according to the lawsuit.

The former students are identified in the complaint by the pseudonyms Jane Doe. All three of the Parkland plaintiffs say they participated in the theater program and had Willman as a classroom teacher.

Willman lawsuit
A lawsuit, initially filed in July 2020 by former students, alleges Parkland School District officials “knew or should have known” that former teacher and coach Christian Willman was sexually assaulting students when he was employed by the district between 2001 and 2011.

Anonia is not named in the lawsuit. He joined the Parkland School District as choral director in 2007 and would have worked with Willman, who taught industrial arts, coached boys’ soccer and was technical director for the school plays and musicals.

The school district did not respond last week to a request for comment about the lawsuit or Anonia's connection.

Anonia has not responded to messages left by LehighValleyNews.com and has not answered a reporter’s knocks at his door, most recently Friday.

Ryan, a partner in the Philadelphia firm of Laffey, Bucci, D’Andrea, Reich & Ryan that brought the lawsuit, would not elaborate on the nature of Anonia’s recent deposition testimony or what he said under oath.

He said Anonia was accompanied at the proceeding by an attorney for the school district.

Willman’s behavior

Authorities initially charged Willman, of Coopersburg, in 2019 with sexually assaulting two Palisades students. More charges were added after the Parkland victims came forward.

In January 2020, Willman pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to abusing six girls — two from Palisades and four from Parkland — and was sentenced to six to 12 years in state prison.

Willman, 44, remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Schuylkill County.

The lawsuit alleges that Willman developed increasingly intimate relationships with the plaintiffs from Parkland during his time with the district, since the time the students were freshmen.

In one case, he allegedly “repeatedly sabotag[ed] [Jane Doe No. 2’s] efforts to have normal romantic relationships with male peers.”

He then engaged in sexual activities with all three plaintiffs, both on and off school property, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendant Parkland elected to ‘pass the trash’ and/or stick their head in the sand and as a result exposed thousands of vulnerable students to a predator."
The complaint

“Willman engaged in a carefully orchestrated yet easily discernible plot to control Plaintiffs’ personal thinking and belief systems so that he could engage in illicit and illegal sexual activity with them,” the complaint alleges.

It also alleges that Parkland School District “failed in a myriad of ways,” including not properly vetting, training or supervising its staff, as well as “negligently retaining staff they knew or should have known were sexually abusing multiple students.”

The complaint says the district “fail[ed] to recognize clear and obvious signs of grooming behaviors by staff,” did not investigate reports of abuse and “fail[ed] to have in place any legitimate measures to protect against a teacher sexually abusing students.”

“Defendant Parkland elected to ‘pass the trash’ and/or stick their head in the sand and as a result exposed thousands of vulnerable students to a predator, a predator that struck more times than can be counted,” the complaint states.

It claims Parkland never investigated Willman nor reported him to authorities, despite concerns over his conduct with girl students.

“Parkland did nothing to warn future employers that Willman was a predator,” the complaint states. “Instead, Parkland let Willman loose to continue working with, and sexually abusing, minors in school settings.”

William Marshall case

How Anonia’s relationship to the Willman lawsuit or former student Marshall factors in to the district investigation — or any action against him by his employer — is unclear.

Marshall, 29, is a Parkland graduate who participated in the theater program.

Another Parkland alum who participated in the theater program told LehighValleyNews.com that Marshall a few years ago was present for rehearsals for the high school musical.

William Marshall
PA Megan's Law database/Donna Fisher LLC
William Marshall was sentenced on April 11, 2024, in Lehigh County Court on charges of possession of child pornography. He is serving a prison sentence at Lehigh County Jail (pictured).

Marshall also worked with chorus students during after-school rehearsals and in the summer, according to another alum who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On Feb. 23, 2023, authorities with a search warrant went to Anonia’s Allentown home and seized Marshall’s iPhone, which they said contained photographs and movies of children engaged in sex acts.

Anonia was not charged but he is named in the police affidavit as the Verizon subscriber for the IP address to which investigators sought access to search Marshall’s phone.

Marshall, who is now on Pennsylvania’s Megan’s Law registry for sex offenders, is serving his prison sentence at Lehigh County Jail.

Under Willman’s sentencing in 2020, he must register as a sex offender for 25 years.