Ecker wants child abuse loophole closed

Carroll superintendant says flawed law blocked teacher sex-case charges

October 23, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's superintendent of schools has asked that the Carroll legislative delegation work to close a loophole in Maryland law that hindered Frederick and Carroll counties from prosecuting child abuse charges against high school teachers accused of having sex with their students.

The loophole prevented Frederick County authorities from prosecuting a 40-year-old high school teacher who was accused in October last year of having sex with a 16-year-old student.

In Carroll, prosecutors did not proceed with 11 of 15 counts of child sexual abuse that had been filed against a substitute teacher from Francis Scott Key High, in part because of a 1997 opinion from the Maryland attorney general.

The opinion held that a teacher who has sex with a student cannot be charged with a crime if the student is at least 16 - the age of consent in Maryland - and if the sexual contact did not occur on school grounds, during a school day or during a school-sanctioned event.

"I think this will be a bigger problem statewide," Carroll interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker told the county's Republican delegates and state senators yesterday at their annual legislative breakfast. "Frederick County has had problems. We've had problems. It is a real problem."

The substitute teacher from Francis Scott Key, Kimberly L. Merson, pleaded guilty in July to four counts of child sexual abuse for having inappropriate contact with four boys, then ages 15 and 16. She was ordered last month to serve 18 months in the county jail and complete five years' probation.

State Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, whose district includes Carroll and Frederick counties, said he would reintroduce a bill he offered last year to close the loophole. A similar bill was introduced in the House of Delegates last year, but, like Ferguson's Senate bill, it did not make it out of committee.

"I don't think we can ignore this anymore," Ferguson said in an interview after yesterday morning's breakfast. "Parents are talking about it. I know that legislators don't like opening a can of worms, but this can has already been opened. Now we need to do something about it."

He said passing this legislation "will be the No. 1 issue for both counties regarding education."

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