State panel set to probe handling of sex case

June 18, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Two high-ranking state education officials and a prosecutor were named yesterday to investigate the Anne Arundel County school system's handling of allegations in 1989 that Ronald W. Price was having a sexual relationship with one of his Northeast High School students.

In announcing the appointments, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the monthlong probe would focus on whether policies or people -- or both -- may have been at fault.

She said that any criminal activity uncovered would be referred to prosecutors and police, and that other wrongdoing would be referred for administrative action. The panel also could that the school system change its policies for handling allegations of child abuse involving school employees, Dr. Grasmick said.

Although the inquiry will focus on the 1989 allegations, it may include other school system employees and other schools, Dr. Grasmick said.

Mr. Price, 49, who was charged this spring with child sexual abuse for allegedly having sex with three girls while they were students at the school in Pasadena, has admitted having sex with as many as seven students over his 25-year teaching career but denies criminal responsibility.

The Brooklyn Park resident has said that school officials knew at least four years ago that he was sexually involved with students and did nothing. This year, he was promoted from assistant softball coach to coach.

Named to the panel, whose findings are due July 19, are:

* A. Skipp Sanders, assistant state superintendent for certification and accreditation since 1988, who is experienced in training and in writing and interpreting policies and regulations;

* Richard J. Steinke, assistant state superintendent for special education since 1987, whose background includes enforcement of regulations;

* Joann G. Goedert, assistant state attorney general in the education affairs division since 1990, whose background includes policy studies.

"I think we have to respond to some nagging questions," Dr. Grasmick said, including whether there was "wrongdoing once the facts surfaced."

The names of 10 students who allegedly had been sexually involved with Mr. Price were in notes written in January 1989 by then-assistant principal Mary Gable, who was investigating one girl's complaint she had had a sexual relationship with the social studies teacher. A police inquiry ended after the girl refused to cooperate with investigators.

Police said they never had the 10 names, but school board attorney P. Tyson Bennett said Ms. Gable maintains she gave the information to police. Ms. Gable is now principal of Old Mill Senior High School.

Mr. Price's attorney, Jonathan S. Resnick, welcomed the investigation. "Our office will cooperate to our fullest extent," he said, though it would "not jeopardize our client."

Dr. Grasmick had harsh words for reports that Mr. Price has signed a movie deal based on the case.

"I'm appalled. I think it's the worst exploitation of our students," she said.

The Council of PTAs Wednesday night recommended that the school system change the way it handles reports of child abuse and neglect. It proposed that a team including workers from the police department, school system, state's attorneys office and county Department of Social Services be formed to investigate complaints.

Dr. Grasmick said she supports that approach.

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