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School superintendent testifies for friend convicted in child sex abuse case

Before Anthony Day agreed to offer character testimony at the sentencing of a friend and neighbor, he went to the Sweet Home School Board.

That's because Day is the Sweet Home superintendent, and his friend Luiz Pereira was convicted of unlawful contact with a child.

Day said the sexual abuse charges were at odds with the man he's known for eight years.

"I did what I did because I thought it was morally and ethically the right thing to do, in order to support somebody that I felt needed support," Day said in a recent interview.

Day said he spoke in court as a private person, not as a district representative, but he recognizes the public may have a hard time making that distinction.

Still, the School Board backed Day's decision to support his friend, now a registered sex offender.

"He's not going down there to try to change a verdict. He's going down to say, 'This is a person I know,'" said Scott Johnson, the board vice president. "So I was comfortable with that, yes, even though there was the potential for backlash."

Pereira, 54, was arrested in January 2018 and accused of inappropriately touching an 11-year-old boy through his clothes in a home in Meadville, Pa., near Erie, several months earlier, according to local media reports.

Pereira is an Amherst resident and former Daemen College administrator who worked at Allegheny College, in Meadville, until he was fired following his arrest.

Day said he first met Pereira as a district parent about 10 years ago when Day was an assistant superintendent. Two years later, around the time Day was named superintendent, he and his family bought a house next door to the Pereiras.

Day said the families became close over the years, with their children going in and out of each other's homes.

"We're not the best of friends, but we socialize," Day said. "He was just a genuine, authentic, good person."

Pereira told him over the summer of the looming trial. Day said he found the accusation hard to believe.

"It would be completely out of character for him. When I heard it, my reaction was, 'What?' " Day said.

He said he was disappointed that a jury in September convicted Pereira of unlawful contact with a minor, a felony, and corruption of a minor, a misdemeanor. Day said Pereira is appealing the verdict.

Day said Pereira approached him about testifying to his good character at the sentencing hearing, but the superintendent said he already wondered how he could help his friend.

"There's another Luiz Pereira that's not being portrayed," Day said.

Day said he's not condoning Pereira's behavior and he spoke as a private citizen. Asked whether he considered refusing because of the nature of the charge involving an 11-year-old victim, Day said he ultimately felt it was important to stick by his friend.

Day did alert the School Board, briefing them on his potential testimony during a closed-door session in October.

"I give him all the credit in the world for having enough courage to go speak on his neighbor's behalf, knowing that some people are not going to understand," Board President Michael Morrow said.

Some School Board members also personally know Pereira.

"I fall in the same boat Tony does," said Johnson, the vice president. "Knowing the way I know him, and just in how he worked with kids and the stuff he would do in the community, it doesn't make sense to me."

Day took a day off and went down to Meadville to speak for about a minute at the Dec. 7 hearing. The judge sentenced Pereira to probation and ordered him to register as a sex offender for 25 years, but said the case troubled him and "there's got to be more to this story," the Meadville Tribune reported.

Board members vowed to support Day if and when news of the testimony came out. That happened late last month, when WGRZ-TV reported on the matter.

The six sitting board members signed a statement sent to district parents and staff that defended Day and explained they had given him the go-ahead.

"I don't know the particulars of the situation, and I may never know the particulars of the situation," said Jenna Tyson, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Sweet Home Middle School, speaking solely as a district parent. "But ultimately I trust Tony and the School Board."

Tyson said the testimony hasn't generated an intense reaction either way.

Morrow and Johnson said the board received one email from a critic, but most of the response was positive. Day said his experience was similar, although a neighbor yelled at him from across the street after the news broke.

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