Houseparent at Boarding School for Underprivileged Kids Arrested for Molestation

A houseparent at the famed Milton Hershey School has been accused of molesting an elementary-aged student on campus grounds. Forty-one-year-old Fernando Zagaceta was charged on Saturday with felony counts of indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, and corruption of minors. He was also charged with a misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child.


The philanthropic private boarding school serves underprivileged kids from around the country, and houseparents have to endure months of vigorous background checks. Husban-and-wife couples serve as houseparents for about a dozen, same-gender students of about the same age.

Zagaceta was not the houseparent for the 8-year-old girl who told police that he had touched her while she was sleeping away from her house. He admitted that he had been in her room while she was sleeping, and that he had touched her arm or hand to see if she was sleeping. He said he couldn't remember if he touched her elsewhere or removed her blanket.

Um, those would be pretty important details to keep track of, after all the hoops he had to jump through to even get approved to work there. MHS spokesperson Lisa Scullin said that all employees undergo a state police criminal check, a child abuse history check, and FBI fingerprinting. She said that all houseparents additionally go through online assessments "to evaluate their motivations." That's in addition to in-person interviews, home checks, and social media checks.

Zagaceta was released on $50,000 unsecured bail, and a preliminary hearing has been set for July 21.

Scullin said that as soon that they learned of the alleged abuse after the child told her own houseparent, they contacted the authorities immediately. "Such behavior is reprehensible and unacceptable, and we are taking this matter very seriously," she said in a statement. "The employee has been removed from campus and arrested. We are cooperating fully with law enforcement."

"The safety of the children in our care is our highest priority, and we are focused on providing all the care and support that this student needs right now. We do not have any information that would suggest that more children in the house have been affected."

"At Milton Hershey School we hold our employees to the highest possible standards and are committed to sustaining a welcoming and safe environment for our students," She concluded.

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Zagaceta has worked at the school since at least 2013, and there have been no other reported incidents involving indecent touching. Hopefully it was a one-time deal and has been nipped in the bud, because this school provides so many kids with an education and opportunities that they'd likely never have without it.

It sucks that some people manage to slip through the cracks and hurt children.


Image via Derry Township Police Department

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