A Bigger Problem than Ron Price

July 02, 1993

Several years ago, when allegations of child abuse among Catholic priests began to surface, church officials either dismissed the rumors as unfounded or insisted that valid cases were rare exceptions. Today, however, church leaders admit that sexual misconduct is a problem in their ranks.

In the wake of the Ron Price debacle in an Anne Arundel County high school, no one argues that the charges against this confessed sex-abuser are unfounded. But Arundel school leaders have insisted that the disgraced teacher is an aberration, that a closer look at the behavior of county teachers is both unfair and unnecessary.

Yet, just as child abuse is more widespread than the Catholic church wanted to admit, so it appears that teacher misconduct is occurring more often than the schools have let on.

Besides Mr. Price, who finally decided to resign, two teachers, two substitutes, three coaches and two teaching assistants were fired in Anne Arundel County during the 1992-1993 school year for offenses ranging from providing students with alcohol to child abuse. Disciplinary action was taken against 15 others.

Over the past decade, there has been a steady stream of allegations -- 171 in all, more than 100 of which resulted in disciplinary action. Sixteen employees have been punished for sexual offenses. This is too many, even in a school system with 4,000 employees.

Teachers unions are furious that this information was made public. It became available after the Annapolis Capital filed a request through the Freedom of Information Act. But parents have a right to know about teacher misconduct for the same reasons teachers have a right to know about students with a history of violence.

And shouldn't the Arundel school board -- which has never been formally briefed on complaints against teachers -- be aware as well? A school spokesman says that from now on, regular reports on the number and the type of complaints and perhaps even the schools at which they occurred will be made public at board meetings. Someone ought to have thought of that before now.

Anne Arundel should not be the only county in this region changing the way it handles teacher misconduct. If there are problems in Arundel, it seems likely there are problems in other school systems, too. It's time to stop pretending sex abuse doesn't exist in the schools. We need to confront this as openly as we have so many other taboos.

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