The Line Between Teacher and Pupil ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

April 21, 1993

What is hardest to understand about the alleged sexual abuse by a Anne Arundel County teacher of his students is how school officials could have been unaware of or unresponsive to such actions.

Ronald Price, a 49-year-old social studies teacher at Northeast High School, has confirmed through his attorneys that he's had sex with female students, but denies the criminality of those actions. Superintendent C. Berry Carter, Northeast High School Principal Joseph Carducci and others say they knew nothing of the alleged wrongdoings, but that is difficult to accept.

Here is a teacher who admits he had sex with seven students, two of whom he married. He admits to relationships, including liaisons in school, with the three females who have filed charges against him. Parents complained about him to officials 18 months ago. And in 1989, police investigated his alleged involvement with another girl.

Are we really supposed to believe that everyone older than 18 at Northeast High was oblivious to what was going on?

Mr. Price's lawyers, in fact, are painting him as a victim of a school system that knew about his problem but refused to help -- an imaginative defense if nothing else. Further obfuscating the issue, Mr. Price has alleged that the whole school system is a regular Peyton Place, and has threatened to expose other teacher-student relationships.

While his claims must be taken with a grain of salt, it's a safe bet that such entanglements are more common than we have thought. The ingredients are all there -- teen-agers subject to crushes, the appeal of youth, the intimacy of daily contact.

Whatever the circumstances, however, teachers have no business getting involved with students. Such relationships are a bad idea in college, where students are adults; at the high school level, they are unconscionable. Unless the student is 18, they're illegal, and even then the teacher violates the trust central to his or her role as caretaker of young people.

Though the old taboos still exist, school leaders cannot rely on them to prevent student-teacher relationships.

They need to take a strong, official stand against educators crossing the line that should separate them from the children they teach.

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