Cleansing a school system

October 13, 1993

Anne Arundel County school officials still have a way to go to correct ignorance and negligence regarding employee misconduct, but they at least appear to be trying.

The school board's offer of a two-week amnesty period -- during which teachers can report suspected cases of abuse without punishment for not following child-abuse reporting laws earlier -- is an intelligent strategy.

Board President Thomas Twombly was right when he said the system must be "cleansed." Confidence in the schools won't be restored unless people know wrongdoers have been weeded out, and that a new leaf has been turned over.

Since the arrest of Ronald Walter Price last April for sexual abuse of female students, the school system has had a hard time striking a balanced reaction to allegations of employee wrongdoing.

After being justifiably blasted for ignoring Price's history of misdeeds, they took almost as much heat for jumping on a teacher's statement that Northeast High coaches Harry Lentz and Roger Stitt harassed her five years ago. The men's supporters felt the system overreacted by transferring them to the central office almost immediately.

But while the school leadership's handling of this matter may have been less than perfect, at least it was conscious of the need to reverse the trend that led to the Price debacle.

Clearly, administrators were trying to send a message that they are now serious about pursuing allegations of misconduct -- even against figures as popular as these coaches. If they came down unusually hard, it is understandable, considering the beating they'd taken over Price.

Six months later, officials still are groping their way through the aftermath of Ron Price, trying to find the right response to each new crisis. They are still making mistakes. Sometimes they overreact. Sometimes they revert to an old penchant for secrecy, as they did after a recent meeting about the future of Superintendent C. Berry Carter.

Officials should be forgiven these errors during this difficult period if, in spite of them, they are committed to changing the way they do business when their own people do wrong.

They tried to show that commitment in the Stitt-Lentz case; it backfired. The offer of amnesty (which runs through Monday), on the other hand, is an indisputable signal that they want to clean up the remains of this scandal and start afresh. It's the most hopeful sign we've had in months.

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