Northeast teachers seek better counsel

January 04, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Some Northeast High School teachers say they want better protection from their union when child abuse allegations are raised -- including a lawyer well-versed in litigation.

"Teachers need to know their rights, and we need a lawyer who knows about more than administrative procedure," said Donna Sweet, an English teacher at the Pasadena school. "It's a dangerous situation teachers are in right now."

The group intends to make its case at tomorrow's meeting of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC), Mrs. Sweet said. The meeting is to begin at 6:45 p.m. at Severn River Junior High.

TAAAC members are entitled to have a lawyer provided if they've been accused of professional wrongdoing or arrested. The lawyer, provided by the Maryland State Teachers Association at TAAAC's request, is responsible for shepherding a teacher through all personnel hearings, including any proceedings related to possible disciplinary action.

But that's not enough, according to the Northeast teachers.

"We also want the union to negotiate with the school board and the legislature for more protection for teachers," Mrs. Sweet said. "And we want someone to examine the Baron report and a number of policy changes to see if they are in agreement with our contract."

The report -- prepared by lawyers Alan I. Baron and Eleanor M. Carey -- was issued last month at the close of a four-month investigation into how the Anne Arundel County school system had handled child abuse cases. The probe found that in 63 cases since 1977, school officials failed to make reports to police and social workers as required by state law.

Among other recommendations, the lawyers urged the county school board to consider transferring teachers among schools every few years to prevent blocs from forming. The Baron report blamed such alliances for creating an atmosphere at Northeast that protected teachers and tolerated abuse by not reporting it.

The probe of the county school system was the third to be launched after the arrests of three teachers at Northeast High School on charges that they had each sexually abused students.

The first investigation -- by the State Department of Education -- found the county school system negligent in its handling of the case involving the first teacher to be arrested, Ronald W. Price.

A second investigation -- by Mr. Baron and Ms. Carey -- led to the resignation of Superintendent C. Berry Carter II in October. That report concluded that Mr. Carter had been in a position to know about previous allegations against Price but did nothing to stop the teacher.

The report also criticized Mr. Carter's system for handling abuse allegations in-house. The third probe checked to see whether there were similar problems throughout the school system, and found cases at four other schools.

Price, convicted of three counts of child abuse, is serving a 26-year sentence.

The second Northeast teacher arrested, Laurie S. Cook, was cleared by a jury of the charge of one count of child abuse but remains under investigation by the county school system, which is trying to determine whether there was professional misconduct.

Charles A. Yocum, the third teacher arrested on a count of child sex abuse, is scheduled to be tried Feb. 7.

A fourth teacher at Northeast, Brandt Schanberger, is on paid administrative leave pending the school system's investigation into an allegation that 20 years ago he forced a student to have oral sex. Police and prosecutors have refused to press charges in that case, which was listed in the Baron report as one that should have been reported to authorities.

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