Reacting in the Post-Price Era ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

June 25, 1993

Anne Arundel County school officials, who have taken plenty of heat for their negligence in the Ron Price affair, deserve credit for acting swiftly on the latest crisis at Northeast High School.

They could easily have kept quiet and done nothing about a former Northeast teacher's accusation that she was sexually harassed by two male teachers -- one the athletic director, the other a veteran baseball coach. The woman, emboldened by the unrelated Price blow-up, told school authorities that the men had harassed her in the late 1980s. She did not, however, make her complaints public, meaning there was no pressure from the media or the community on the school administrators to act. That they did on their own.

Clearly, they have learned a lesson from the Price case, in which it is ever more clear they ignored complaints about Mr. Price's sexual relationships with students. This time, they began investigating the charges as soon as police completed their probe of the Price affair. The athletic director, Roger Stitt, and Harry Lentz, the baseball coach, have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. This is a gutsy move on school officials' part, especially considering that high school sports figures are high-profile and often popular in the community.

As always, we must remember that the charges against the men are only that. If there is no evidence to substantiate the charges, the men should be returned to the classroom -- a privilege that has yet to be given to Pat Emory, the Severna Park Elementary principal arrested last fall on drug charges. A grand jury failed to find enough evidence to indict her, yet she remains on paid leave.

Since the Price case, teachers have felt -- justifiably -- that they are working in an atmosphere of paranoia. Mr. Price's arrest and the rumors and investigations it triggered have put the entire teaching community on the defensive. That is unfortunate, for most teachers are devoted professionals who care about kids and have never behaved improperly. Yet if the Price case taught the school system anything, it is that complaints cannot be dismissed on the assumption that they're groundless, or ignored in hopes that the problem will quietly disappear. School officials made that mistake once. Wisely, they have not made it again.

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