Price Case: Who's The Victim Here?

COMMENT

April 18, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

Ronald Walter Price says he's a "victim."

I say he's a dirty middle-aged man.

Ronald Walter Price says he's sick. No argument here. Any 49-year-old high school teacher who has sex with his students -- in school, no less -- and talks to a ceramic monkey can't be wrapped too tightly.

Ronald Walter Price also says that because he is sick, he is not criminally responsible for various sex charges involving a Northeast High School girl. His lawyer says he's been abused -- by the Anne Arundel County school system, which he says knew he had a "disorder" and did nothing to help him.

A "courageous victim" -- that's actually what a press release sent out by his attorneys calls him. The whole release is rather amazing. It makes this case sound like some noble crusade on behalf of all "victims" of whatever illness Mr. Price purportedly has.

"We hope to put this situation in a positive light and help end the fear and inaction that have kept this kind of illness hidden from view," the release says.

Please.

There is no way to make anything positive out of the Price case. It's a sordid, dirty business, the kind of stuff you'd see on "The Montel Williams Show" or "A Current Affair." Indeed, you will see it on Montel Williams and "A Current Affair." The ink had not dried on our story about Mr. Price's arrest before both programs were trying to get their smarmy little hands on him. They know dirt when they see it.

Mr. Price, for his part, was more than willing to share his saga with Montel and Co., which is more than he would do for the local media. Local reporters tried to get his version of the story, but were told via his lawyers that he chose the TV tabloids instead, so "he will be able to set the record straight in a format that is uncontested."

Even without an up-close-and-personal interview with Mr. Price, we know more than enough to ask some questions, such as: How has he gotten away with this all this time?

Mr. Price's thing for young things is nothing new, nor was it any secret among Northeast students. Even freshmen, who've been at the school less than a year, said he was constantly flirting with girls. One senior said he saw him rubbing girls' backs. Another student whose brother attended the school in 1979 said there were rumors about his shenanigans back then.

On top of that, one of his two ex-wives as well as the current Mrs. Price are former students.

School officials insist they knew nothing of Mr. Price's problem, a fishy claim considering that county police say the schools asked them in 1989 to investigate Mr. Price for child abuse. Those allegations, dropped because the alleged victim refused to talk to detectives, were similar to ones filed last week, namely that he had a consensual sexual relationship with the girl.

This man was investigated four years ago. The 16-year-old who filed last week's charges says she has been involved with him for 1 1/2 years. More than a dozen other suspected victims have contacted police since then, and parents say they expressed concern to Principal Joseph Carducci 18 months ago. Mr. Price's lawyers themselves have confirmed that their client has had sexual relations with four other girls over the past decade.

Wouldn't you think some adult at Northeast would have known something was going on? Wouldn't you think Mr. Carducci, known as one of the most rigidly moralistic administrators in the county, would be attuned to this? This is, after all, the same principal who fired his athletic director for scheduling a lacrosse game on Good Friday; how could he not have seen such wrongdoing?

Schools are gossipy places; news of a teacher having a relationship with a student would spread like wildfire. Yet no one seems to have known, and if they did, no one did anything about it. Mr. Price, a social studies teacher, was coaching girls' softball and the drama club (made up mostly of girls) until he was put on administrative leave last week.

Mr. Price's attorneys are twisting the schools' apparent negligence to fit their "victim" theory. They ask us to feel sorry for him because he was sick, yet no one helped this "respected" veteran teacher.

That's ridiculous. First of all, there are signs that Mr. Price was no Mr. Chips. According to most students, his behavior was often weird, including dialogues with a ceramic monkey he kept on his desk.

Even his fans threw him left-handed compliments. "He was great," said Bruce Fissell, 15. "He always let us sit down and do nothing all day, sometimes for the whole week."

Finally, isn't there such a thing as personal responsibility?

This is a college-educated, 25-year teaching veteran old enough to be the father of the girls with whom he was involved. If he wanted help, he was free to seek it at any time. And remember, we know about this not because he confessed and begged for help, but because a student filed a criminal charge against him.

If school officials knew about Mr. Price's problems and did nothing, they have lot of explaining to do. It's unconscionable that they've kept Pat Emory, the Severna Park Elementary principal arrested on drug charges last fall, out of the classroom long after her case was dropped, but did nothing about this situation.

If they knew, their culpability lies, not in failing to help Mr. Price, but in exposing countless young girls to sexual abuse. They are the victims.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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