Carter says he 'did nothing wrong'

January 09, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

C. Berry Carter II, after nearly four decades devoted to the Anne Arundel County school system, has come to terms with his professional death.

"People sent me flowers like I had died," Mr. Carter said with a smile last week. "But as I told one friend, I did die -- professionally. Fortunately, there's life after the Board of Education. And I have two file folders full of letters from people who know I did nothing wrong."

In the months before Mr. Carter's resignation in October as superintendent of the 68,000-student school system, the startling answers to one question rocked the county: How could a popular teacher such as Ronald W. Price have sex with students at Northeast High School for more than 20 years without anyone knowing?

County residents were further astounded when Price confessed to having sex with students on "Geraldo!" and was convicted of )) three counts of child sex abuse and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

In three separate reports, independent investigators concluded that school officials knew what Price was doing -- and that he wasn't the only teacher taking sexual liberties with students. Chief among those officials was Mr. Carter, who had been deputy superintendent for 18 years before his promotion to the top spot in July 1992. Mr. Carter denied that he knew about Price's activities until the teacher was arrested in April.

The most damaging findings were contained in a report prepared for the school system by Washington lawyer Alan I. Baron. In it, Mr. Carter was cited for setting up a system in which suspected child abuse cases were investigated by school system sleuths instead of being turned over to police or the county Department of Social Services. Allegations were often dropped as teachers' denials were accepted at face value.

During a four-hour interview last week, the former school superintendent spoke publicly for the first time since his October resignation.

He has come to terms with the events of last year but rejects the pariah's image that Mr. Baron and others seem to have crafted for him.

"This is a Navy town. It happened on my watch, and I accept that responsibility," Mr. Carter said. "But to say it was the school system's 'dirty little secret' really upsets me. There was no intent to cover up anything, despite what Mr. Baron says."

He continued, "I wouldn't have endangered the welfare of a kid for the welfare of an institution."

The 38-year veteran of the school system said child abuse is viewed in a different light because of the "political correctness of the times." The definition of the legal term "reason to believe" has changed. In the past, Mr. Carter said, school officials were urged to gather as many facts as possible before turning a case over to the county Department of Social Services. Since Price's arrest, he pointed out, the merest whisper of impropriety on the part of a teacher is reported.

"To say I fostered an atmosphere to hide child abuse -- I resent the fact that Mr. Baron has substituted his judgment for what has gradually changed over time," Mr. Carter said.

For years, he said, the emphasis at educational and legal conventions was on "due process" -- for teachers. "If police and social services did an investigation and the matter was dropped, and if we have no further information, then on what basis do you move against the teacher?" Mr. Carter asked.

Often, he said, administrators at school system headquarters in Annapolis would get tips on teachers who allegedly were abusing students. "Sometimes a parent would call and say, 'My daughter says she's having a relationship with her teacher,' " Mr. Carter said. "And we'd say, 'Would you be willing to testify and have her testify?' and the mother would say, 'No, you handle it.' So what do you do?"

What he usually did, he said, was call the teacher in for a chat with him and the special assistant to the superintendent who'd investigated the case, "and we'd pretend we knew more than we did and get them to resign. In most cases, they did."

One investigators' report urged the county school board to create a policy explicitly stating that teachers shouldn't date or have sex with their students.

Mr. Carter, however, scoffed at the notion of putting in writing what should be obvious to anyone. "We don't have a policy saying teachers shouldn't murder students either," he said.

"Do I think we'd behave differently post-Price than pre-Price? Absolutely," he continued. "I'm not trying to say Price didn't fool us all. He fooled principals and parents and kids for years -- he was a drama coach. We've been blamed for not training teachers enough [to recognize abuse]. We may not have done enough, but we've done more than anyone else in the state."

After a 1985 incident in which he publicly apologized for the school system's failure to report a child abuse case and vowed to make changes, Mr. Carter authored a document that translated policies into everyday terms easily understood by principals.

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