The Tragedy of C. Berry Carter

October 29, 1993

Barely one and a half years ago, we joined the rest of Anne Arundel in welcoming C. Berry Carter II as that county's new school superintendent. After Anne Arundel had suffered through eight years of two superintendents who knew next to nothing about running a large school system, Mr. Carter's hiring seemed the beginning of a bright new era. Though passed over twice for the superintendency, Mr. Carter brought 38 years of local service and devotion, political savvy and -- so it seemed -- stability to the Arundel schools.

A lifetime may as well have passed since then. His brief tenure as superintendent was a disaster, for the system and for him personally. He finally resigned in disgrace Tuesday, damned by evidence that as deputy superintendent he repeatedly turned his back on cases of alleged child abuse by teachers. The investigation released this week found he ignored state child abuse reporting laws, not only in the notorious Ronald Walter Price case, but in nine other instances.

Reports of a married coach sleeping with a student, of a teacher removing her blouse and bra in front of sixth-graders -- these kinds of charges were not turned over to the Department of Social Services as the law requires, but were kept quiet and investigated in-house. Worse yet, most of the complaints occurred after 1985, when Mr. Carter and other school officials were severely chided by police for not following the rules in another highly publicized case of abuse.

Mr. Carter walks away from the school system a tragic figure. He says he always did what he thought was best for the system. We do not doubt him. His devotion has been obvious. But he loved the system too much, protecting it instead of the children whose interests the system is supposed to serve.

While it is impossible not to empathize with him, it is equally impossible to overlook how much damage his negligence has wrought. Ron Price would have had little effect on the schools had he been merely an aberration the system knew nothing about. Instead, he was a symptom of a much greater ill. To the extent that Mr. Carter allowed this illness to go unchecked, he bears responsibility for the trauma that has blackened the system's name and rocked it to its very foundation.

Every parent, student and teacher in Anne Arundel County is paying a price because of Mr. Carter's mistakes. It is surely not the legacy he wished to leave.

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