Impact of sex scandal lingers Price's legacy: wary teachers, new rules, regulations

January 20, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The teacher-student sex scandal set off by Ronald W. Price nearly five years ago has had lasting repercussions in the Anne Arundel County schools and around the state.

Price, convicted in 1993 of sexually abusing three of his students at Northeast High School, died of lung cancer at University of Maryland Medical Center Saturday, a day after he was released from prison so that he could die at home.

Price's actions -- he admitted having sex with at least seven students over a 25-year teaching career -- led to an overhaul of county personnel rules, state education reforms and the rewriting of Maryland's "Son of Sam" law, which bars criminals from profiting from their crimes.

It also led teachers to become wary of touching students.

"Every day, we live with the legacy of Ron Price," said Thomas Paolino, who was president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County during most of the turmoil.

Part of that legacy was a witch hunt mentality in which several teachers were accused of molesting students but only Price was convicted, teachers said.

Many teachers are reluctant to take a child's hand, stay alone in a room with a student or pat a student's shoulders for fear of accusations of sexual harassment or abuse.

"We are still telling teachers: Don't touch kids, in any way, shape or form," Paolino said. "I think that is bad -- there are a lot of kids who come to school in desperate need of attention. Teachers have always been there for them, to pat them on the back and give them that extra bit of encouragement."

Carolyn Roeding, president of the countywide PTA at the time, said she hopes that there is a greater awareness of child abuse and sexual harassment as a result of Price's convictions.

"He was held accountable for his actions. It is certainly not a reflection of all teachers," she said.

The Price scandal, which put Northeast High through an emotional wringer and meant national notoriety for the Anne Arundel school system, exposed numerous internal problems in personnel practices and recordkeeping.

A $100,000 state-ordered investigation into the school system revealed past lapses in dealing with claims of teacher-student abuse, along with poor recordkeeping and informal handling of some accusations.

"In terms of personnel practices, I am sure Anne Arundel has among the best in the state, if not the nation," said Joseph H. Foster, one of two school board members who remain from 1993 and who has voted to implement dozens of rules.

The scandal also cost C. Berry Carter III his job as superintendent, although Price's tenure in the school system came under three other superintendents and numerous administrators.

Since then, personnel practices, tracking employee conduct and the understanding of what to do when child abuse is suspected have changed. Procedures for documenting allegations and dealing with child protective service investigators and police are set out in great detail. The school system just updated its training video on abuse and sexual harassment.

Some have criticized the time and paperwork the new rules require. But "we are better off for what has happened," said Donald Smith, administrator of the Association of Educational Leaders, the principals union. "This has brought some kind of order to the system."

Northeast's turmoil was heightened by the scramble in trying to cope with it.

"If you don't have your act together internally, you can't get information out quickly and accurately," said spokeswoman Jane Doyle.

School officials created a plan that has been used for other school emergencies. It includes teams of psychologists for counseling, meetings to spread correct information and finding out rapidly what the community needs and providing it.

The Price scandal also brought changes at the state level.

After a preliminary investigation in Anne Arundel found that few teachers knew what they were supposed to do if they suspected child abuse, state education officials threatened to make spot inquiries around the state. Rather than risk embarrassment, local school systems statewide agreed to train all employees.

During other investigations spawned by the Price case, the State Board of Education, realizing it lacked the power to revoke a teacher's license unless the teacher had been convicted of a criminal offense, amended its rules.

Price's refusal to show the state his contract for a made-for-TV movie led to amending a Maryland law forbidding criminals from profiting from their crimes.

In 1994, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Price did not have to give the state a copy of the contract. Within months, the General Assembly changed the state's "Son of Sam" law to help victims profit from criminals' lucrative deals.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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