Report berates Arundel for stifling abuse charges

December 16, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writers

A four-month probe into Anne Arundel County schools has uncovered 138 allegations of child abuse since 1977, including 63 cases school officials failed to turn over to police and social workers, according to a report issued yesterday.

The scathing report, handed over to the county Board of Education by Washington lawyer Alan I. Baron, lambasted school officials for the "unenlightened and dangerously deficient" way in which allegations of child sexual or physical abuse were handled.

Twenty-seven of the unreported cases were discovered by Mr. Baron in three file boxes stored, along with other "discarded items," in a general storage area at school system headquarters in Annapolis. The remaining cases were culled from school records at a dozen sites scattered throughout the county.

Although the investigation was initiated after three teachers at Northeast High School in Pasadena were arrested and charged with having sex with students, the problem is widespread, according to the report.

"There has been a general failure at all levels of school administration consistently to recognize, report, prevent or thwart the behavior of the child abuser, or to prevent further victimization of the child brave enough to come forward to report the conduct," the report states.

Northeast teacher Ronald W. Price was the first arrested. He later admitted on national television that he had had sex with as many as seven of his former students, two of whom he wed. Laurie S. Cook was acquitted last week on charges she allowed a male student to touch her sexually, while Charles Yocum will stand trial early next year on charges he had sex with a female student.

The report paints a portrait of a school system that did its best to hush allegations against teachers to avoid embarrassment. In a 1978 incident, then-deputy superintendent C. Berry Carter II, who was superintendent at the time Price was charged, reprimanded an elementary school principal for not intervening on behalf of a fifth-grade teacher facing a criminal assault charge.

"Your failure, in this instance, to seek assistance, or to initiate any positive action to reconcile the matter has contributed to an unfortunate embarrassment to the teaching profession and to the public school system of Anne Arundel County," Mr. Carter wrote.

Mr. Carter's job at that time included overseeing teacher discipline. He served just over one year as superintendent, resigning in October. A preliminary report from Mr. Baron showed that, at his direction, many allegations that teachers abused students were not turned over to police or social workers for investigation, contrary to state law.

Reached at his home in Annapolis last night, Mr. Carter declined to comment.

Thomas Paolino, president of the county teachers' union, criticized school officials for going on what he called a "witch hunt."

"Prior to Ron Price, when an allegation was made, an investigation was done quietly, and the media wasn't all over and the name hadn't gotten into the press," Mr. Paolino said. "The telling statement in all of this was made by the prosecutor in the Laurie Cook case -- 'If it hadn't been for Ron Price, this would never have been prosecuted.' "

The report castigates the school system for having "stuck its collective head in the sand," for fostering an atmosphere that tolerated abuse and for transferring teachers suspected of child abuse to other schools without informing the principals and without following up.

It also derides the school system's handling of several specific cases, including one in which a teacher reportedly forced a student to have oral sex in 1973. The incident was reported this May, but the teacher remains in the classroom. School Board President Thomas Twombly said the board is looking into that and other cases.

All 63 cases that were not reported when allegations were made have been turned over to police and social workers.

School board members said they were horrified to learn that the system has no policy barring teacher-student sexual relationships. The report recommends 10 changes in policies, record-keeping and other procedures, among them a ban on student-teacher dating.

School board member Michael Pace said he was most appalled by the revelation in the report that two other teachers at Northeast had a key to Ron Price's apartment and took students there for sex.

"It was almost a conspiracy to abuse these young girls. They just set up an apartment to have sex with high school students. It turns my stomach."

Other recommendations included training so students recognize when they are in danger of abuse and better tracking of employees transferred for disciplinary reasons.

TO GET A SUMMARY

By dialing SunFax at (410) 332-6123 and entering the code 5858, readers can receive, by fax, a free copy of the seven-page executive summary by Alan Baron about how Anne Arundel County schools handled allegations of child sexual and physical abuse.

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