The Price Case: It Happened Before

COMMENT

September 12, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

Selma Goldberg believed she had made a difference.

In the eight years since the Anne Arundel County public schools fired her, she found comfort in this belief, that something good had come out of her own ordeal. That the ruination of her career mattered less than helping expose a teacher who was committing crimes against students. That the publicity surrounding her case had forced school officials to be more vigilant about weeding out bad teachers.

But as the former Arundel Junior High guidance counselor sat in Courtroom One of the County Courthouse last week, listening to three of Northeast High School teacher Ronald W. Price's victims tell of sexual abuse far worse than that which she stumbled across in 1985, she knew she had been wrong.

"I feel demoralized and shocked," said Ms. Goldberg, retired from the school system after being reinstated by the state in 1986. "All I went through didn't make a darned bit of difference."

Ms. Goldberg, now 63, had been a dedicated guidance counselor for nearly 20 years when the school board kicked her out. The same school officials who turned their heads for two decades while Mr. Price was having sex with girls on catwalks and in audio-visual rooms wasted no time getting rid of her. She was suspended, tried and fired within seven months after she went outside the school system to urge a police investigation of Frederick Douglas Fairley, a teacher who was eventually convicted of molesting two students.

Officially, of course, school officials insisted Ms. Goldberg's firing had nothing to do with her role in the Fairley case; her crime consisted of breaking bureaucratic rules and regulations, such as refusing to give the name of a student who had been abused to the school principal.

Instead, believing her bosses wouldn't do anything about the complaint and fearing for her job if she reported it herself, Ms. Goldberg called the girl on her own and encouraged her to go to the police.

Is it any wonder that Ms. Goldberg had so little faith that her superiors would treat an abuse charge seriously? The same negligence that left Price in the classroom for so long was at work in the Fairley case, too.

Much has been written these past few months about state laws requiring school employees to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Social Services and the need to teach teachers about these laws. One of the most troubling revelations of the Price scandal was just how little teachers know about these laws.

It becomes even more troubling once you realize school officials were chided eight years ago for failing to follow proper procedures and failing to make sure employees understood them.

In an Evening Sun article published just after Mr. Fairley's arrest, none other than then-Deputy Superintendent C. Berry Carter III -- now superintendent on leave pending an investigation of the Price scandal -- said officials had been investigating complaints against teachers themselves before reporting them to police or DSS. DSS subsequently made it clear to him and the rest of the school system that this was not only unacceptable, but illegal.

"The law is clear," Social Services Director Edward R. Bloom said then. "Complaints must be made to us and the police."

In response to the Fairley uproar, the school system developed a new, stricter policy on reporting abuse complaints, which was reviewed by Warren B. Duckett Jr., then the county's state's attorney. It called for all suspected abuse to be reported to the police and DSS.

"We are better off reporting these allegations, especially in the social environment we have today with all the media attention," Mr. Carter said.

That was in 1985. By October 1987, when two Northeast teachers reported their suspicions about Mr. Price, he and his colleagues had apparently forgotten all about their strict new policy. They never called the police. They never called DSS. They never even bothered to inspect Mr. Price themselves, other than to ask if he was doing anything wrong and then accept him at his word when he said no.

Ms. Goldberg had been too optimistic.

"I thought they did get scared eight years ago. I thought they'd be a little more careful," she said.

They weren't. The school system that cared more about Selma (( Goldberg breaking a rule than a teacher molesting a child didn't change much from 1985 to 1993.

"The crimes they are concerned about are the crimes against them," Ms. Goldberg said. "They're concerned about your not being a 'team player.' They are not concerned about the well-being of children."

Perhaps with all that has happened now that will change. Perhaps the national embarrassment wrought by Ron Price, his conviction last week, and a mandate from State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick will finally make this school system stop covering its transgressors.

Selma Goldberg is hopeful.

Hopeful, but not holding her breath.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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