Arundel school chief put on leave Mishandling of sex case prompted action

August 01, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers and Peter Hermann | Carol L. Bowers and Peter Hermann,Staff Writers Staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

Anne Arundel County school Superintendent C. Berry Carter II was placed on paid administrative leave yesterday -- two days after a state investigation condemned his handling of a scandal involving a Northeast High School teacher who had sex with students.

Thomas Twombly, the county school board president, announced that an independent investigator to be approved by the state school superintendent will look into whether Dr. Carter failed to follow state law in reporting cases of child abuse.

"There may be questions of in competency and willful neglect of duty," Mr. Twombly read from a prepared statement after a closed meeting that lasted nine hours. He said the investigator's report would be due Nov. 30.

The news angered some county parents, who began calling for Dr. Carter's ouster Thursday.

"I feel the investigative report released last week spoke loud and clear," said Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel Council of PTAs. "I don't see any reason for this to continue into November. Mr. Carter should either resign, retire or be fired."

Thomas A. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said last night that he was "surprised" by the board's action.

"I hope the board will do a thorough investigation and let the cards fall where they may," Mr. Paolino said. "I hope if disciplinary action is called for, the appropriate disciplinary action is taken."

School board members said they felt strongly about Dr. Carter's right to due process in light of his insistence he had "no direct knowledge" of Ronald Walter Price's sexual liaisons with students before the teacher's arrest in April. Mr. Price, 49, admitted on national television after his arrest to having affairs with eight students.

But a state investigation showed that in 1987, Dr. Carter -- then deputy school superintendent whose duties included disciplining teachers -- was notified about several allegations made against Mr. Price, but he and his staff did not report them to police or social workers.

Mr. Twombly said board members discussed firing Dr. Carter, but decided to place him on administrative leave with pay.

Carlese Finney, one of two new board members, said the group was "concerned about the personnel impact on Mr. Carter and his family because of his 39 years of service.

"No one wants to negate what he's accomplished or his commitment to the system," she said. "But we are not letting that interfere with the law or the safety and security of children."

She said the school board needs to hear from the community, "not just read about their feelings in the newspapers." The school board's next regular meeting is Wednesday.

Jo Ann Tollenger, another board member, said before yesterday's meeting that she was prepared to fire the superintendent, saying there has been a "crisis in management."

"The children have to come first," she said. "In this case, children did not come first. At the very least this is a crisis in leadership."

After the meeting, Ms. Tollenger declared: "I have not changed my position. We heard Mr. Carter for three hours. We agreed that because of the length of his service to allow more time." But she said that vote was not unanimous.

She would not say what the vote was, however.

Mr. Twombly said the investigation also will be "devoted to identifying any other school system employee involvement."

"The board will move quickly to discipline appropriately, based on the findings of the investigation," he said.

Dr. Carter left the caucus room where the board was meeting about two hours before board members emerged at 7 p.m.

"I have no comment at this time," he said as he got into his silver Mercedes and drove off. Before the meeting, he said he knew "what the report assumes" and would "have a lot to say later."

'Correct the problems'

Carol Parham, director of human resources, the school system's personnel department, was named acting superintendent.

She said she was surprised at being put in charge and that the first order of business is "preparing for the opening of school and meeting the demands of the report from the state Department of Education. I honestly believe we have a school system with many talented people who are willing to work to correct the problems."

Superintendent Carter's troubles began in April, when Mr. Price was charged. Mr. Price was arrested after a 16-year-old confided to a school guidance counselor that she was having an affair with a teacher. Two graduates also came forward to press charges, saying they, too had sexual relationships with Mr. Price while students at Northeast.

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