Parents seek disclosure of misconduct Issue sparked by case involving teacher, Liberty High student

Stronger rule sought

Guarantee that school will report to family in 7 days proposed

March 09, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The cracks became evident after a case slipped through them.

Two years ago, a custodian saw a Liberty High School girl and a male teacher alone one evening at the school and told the principal. But no one from the school ever told the parents.

Since then, the girl's parents have been joined by others who want a guarantee that they will be called within days of a report of any impropriety.

"I always assumed that it would simply be part of the process," said Linda Murphy, president of Carroll County Council of PTAs, who has helped advocate for the parents involved. "I support stronger language for parent notification."

School officials wrote a regulation last month saying parents would be notified within a day of the principal getting such a report, or "as soon as practicable or legally possible."

What troubles some parents is that school officials concede there might still be rare instances where parents would not be notified.

The practice always has been to call parents of a student involved in incidents of inappropriate conduct, said Edwin Davis, director of pupil services for Carroll County schools. But until now, it wasn't in black and white.

Last month, Davis presented to the school board a revised regulation inspired by the Liberty High case.

The regulation says staff may have only a professional relationship with students -- no chumminess or intimate friendships. State law forbids sexual contact, but Carroll schools went further a few years ago and said no dating, even if it doesn't involve sex. The new policy takes it a step further to cover behavior such as inappropriate phone calls and gifts.

For the first time, the regulation stipulates that parents of any student involved will be notified, though the wording isn't as solid as parents want.

The incident that activated the parents involved a male high school teacher who no longer teaches in Carroll, they said.

The mother of the student in the incident said she became increasingly concerned in 1995 that the teacher was getting personally involved with her daughter. The family has asked that their names not be used to protect their daughter's privacy. Their daughter maintains that it was a friendship and that the teacher had no bad intentions.

The parents were aware and watchful of the relationship. But they say the school did not let them know that a custodian had been concerned enough to report seeing their daughter and the teacher alone together at the school one evening.

Mistaken identity

Another family became involved because of mistaken identity: The custodian did not know the girl, and his description caused administrators to assume it was a different student.

That girl's parents are upset that the school never contacted them, either. They and their daughter, they said, had no clue that school staff spent months erroneously suspecting she was involved with the teacher.

The confusion wasn't cleared up until fall 1995, when both girls were in college, and an investigator for the state's attorney's office happened to find out about the custodian's report while visiting the school on another matter. His inquiries led to notification of the parents and clarification of the identity of the girl involved.

No criminal charges

No criminal charges have resulted from the investigation by the state's attorney's office, and the staff there will not comment.

If things had worked the way they should have, the parents of the two girls said, the school would have notified law enforcement authorities, who would have acted quickly to notify the parents and interview the girls. If it wasn't serious enough to report to authorities, the school still should have called the parents, they said.

The mistaken identification could have been cleared up sooner, and the mother of the girl who was with the teacher could have given more information and potential evidence to an investigator, the parents said.

Personnel regulations

Liberty High School Principal Robert Bastress said personnel regulations restricted his comments.

"An incident occurred, and appropriate action was taken," Bastress said. "As a principal, you deal with a lot of situations on a day-to-day basis that policies don't always cover."

Superintendent Brian Lockard has said administrators acted appropriately.

After the parents raised the issue of notification more than a year ago, school officials searched the pupil services handbook for references to notifying parents, Davis said. Most of what they found was how to notify the parent of a student who had victimized another student.

"As we have written these rules, we have focused on the person who did the misbehaving, rather than on the alleged victim," Davis said. "These are the kinds of things we learn when a parent raises a concern."

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