Educator, board near settlement Teacher acquitted of sex abuse charge leveled by student

Talks in 'final stages'

Yocum would be able to retain his job in school system

March 23, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for an Anne Arundel County teacher acquitted on criminal charges of sexually abusing a student say they are close to a settlement that would allow him to remain an employee, and the school system to avoid another public airing of the case.

The teacher, Charles A. Yocum, was fired in August 1994 by schools Superintendent Carol A. Parham despite the acquittal. He had remained an employee -- but in an administrative job outside the classroom -- while appealing the action.

Yocum's lawyers and representatives of the school system are said to have been trading proposals on a settlement of his appeal since fall, including such issues as job guarantees and whether the accusations would appear in his personnel file.

"It is in the final stages of negotiations and should be resolved [soon]," said Terrence M. Nolan, an attorney for Yocum.

The Yocum case was one of several that arose in the wake of a sex scandal involving teacher Ronald W. Price at the county's Northeast High School in Pasadena. Price was the first of four county teachers to be charged in 1993 with having sex with students, but was the only one convicted; he is serving a 21-year prison term.

Yocum, a special education teacher at Northeast High -- and honored there as "teacher of the year" -- was accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old student but acquitted by a county Circuit Court jury in March 1994. The case was viewed as the weakest of those brought against the teachers in the wake of the Price scandal.

The former student claimed that she had sex with Yocum three times -- twice in his classroom and once in a storage room. At trial, prosecutors tried to depict Yocum as a teacher who took advantage of a troubled teen-ager seeking comfort from him.

Neighbors who testified criticized the girl's character and habits. Jurors were told that in the years after the sexual abuse was alleged to have occurred, she pleaded guilty to passing 28 bad checks in the rural Pennsylvania community near State College where she lived.

Among the issues likely to surface at any school board hearing on Yocum's appeal would be two that go to the heart of the case: conflicting testimony on the reliability of the accusations and questions about the character of the accuser.

"A local school system got slapped after Price," said Susan W. Russell, the Maryland State Teachers Association's associate general counsel who also has represented Yocum. "They went overboard."

Both sides said they were looking for a resolution of the Yocum case, especially given the amount of time the case has dragged on.

His appeal is 2 1/2 years old, and the accusation of sexual impropriety even older.

School officials said handling a series of teacher appeals of disciplinary actions in an orderly way and efforts to reach a settlement have delayed the Yocum case.

School board lawyer P. Tyson Bennett said that as the investigation stretched out, "We were less sanguine about our prospects."

Yocum was fired on the basis of a school system investigation, as were two other teachers acquitted of criminal charges. Laurie S. Cook, another acquitted Northeast teacher, is challenging her dismissal before the state school board. Thomas A. Newman, acquitted of charges that he had sex with a student in 1976 when he taught at Glen Burnie High School, was reinstated last year by a divided school board.

He remains in a job at Board of Education headquarters working with potential vocational employers, but not with students.

Yocum is assigned to a job in human relations and special education, continuing to receive his annual salary of $39,123 while working in the planning office.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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