Teacher's dismissal overturned Split decision upsets firing by Parham in misconduct case

'We're very pleased'

4-3 vote falls short of ousting employee acquitted in sex case

September 19, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County teacher Thomas A. Newman, acquitted two years ago of criminal charges that he had sex with one of his students in 1976, was cleared by a divided school board last night of sexual misconduct charges involving that student and three others.

The board's vote does not return Newman to the classroom, but it allows him to keep his $49,000-a-year job, overturning his firing by Superintendent Carol S. Parham. His assignment will be determined by Parham.

Newman, who vehemently denied all the allegations, had no comment on his reinstatement.

"Naturally, we're very pleased," said defense lawyer Thomas C. Morrow. He said he had spoken with Newman about it. "His feeling, shared by his family, was that they are very relieved to get this nightmare over with. He is looking forward to returning to his career."

The seven board members who voted on the case were split 4-3 in favor of upholding his firing. A majority of five, however, is needed for any board action.

Board President Joseph H. Foster, Vice President Carlesa R. Finney, member Michael A. Pace and student member Steven H. White Jr. voted to fire Newman. Members Janet Bury, Thomas E. Florestano and Paul G. Rudolph said the evidence against him was weak and testimony inconsistent.

Board member Michael J. McNelly recused himself from the case because he was a police officer during the criminal investigation.

Newman, 47, was accused of having sexual relations, kissing and sexually harassing four female students at Glen Burnie High School over 11 years.

If five board members had sided with a student on any one of the allegations, Newman could have been dismissed.

"Individually, they were not as believable, but together, they were. It showed a pattern," said Foster.

Two of the girls knew each other during high school, but Foster said apparently they had had no contact since.

"I'm disappointed. I thought that the superintendent had a strong case. I am convinced these young women were telling the truth," said P. Tyson Bennett, who pressed the administrative charges for Parham. Parham fired Newman Oct. 12, 1994. Newman appealed that decision to the school board a week later.

Newman is in his 26th year as a teacher, most of that time at Glen Burnie High School. He spent four years at the Center for Applied Technology South in Edgewater, placing students with employers. He was removed from there in 1993 when criminal charges were lodged in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. He is in his third year at school headquarters working with potential employers for vocational students, pending the outcome of the case.

Board members based their decision on transcripts of an administrative hearing, closing arguments they heard Sept. 4 and a July 24 recommendation by hearing examiner William M. Ferris that Newman be declared not guilty and returned to the classroom.

In a 26-page report to the board, Ferris concluded that inconsistencies, lack of detail and contradictory testimony made the girls' allegations either far-fetched or too vague to be upheld.

A student first accused Newman in 1990 of having sex with her in 1976, but school officials took no action. The allegations came to light again in the wake of a 1993 teacher-student sex scandal, and Newman was charged by county police with having sex with a female student.

After he was acquitted, the school system began to press administrative charges against him and other teachers accused of wrongdoing, regardless of the outcome of criminal court action. The board has not always backed Parham's decisions to fire teachers, nor has it always followed the hearing examiner's recommendation.

Three Northeast High School teachers faced criminal prosecutions.

Social studies teacher Ronald Price admitted having sexual liaisons with about a half-dozen students and was convicted in ++ criminal court of several charges. The board fired him.

Laurie S. Cook, a science teacher, was acquitted by a jury in December 1993 of sexually abusing a male student. After an administrative hearing, the board fired her against the recommendation of the examiner. She has appealed to the state school board.

Charles Yocum, a special education teacher, was acquitted in March 1994 when a jury decided he did not ask a 16-year-old to perform sex acts on him in his classroom or in a storage room at the Pasadena school in 1989. His administrative hearing is scheduled for this fall.

In August 1994, the board reinstated another Northeast teacher who had been accused of sexually abusing a student 20 years ago when he taught at a different school. Police investigated the complaint against Brandt Schanberger but never charged the teacher, saying the evidence was insufficient.

Investigators for the school system, however, declared there had been evidence of misconduct, and on that basis, Parham had recommended he be fired. He was reinstated when he appealed that decision to the school board.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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