Teacher's arrest divides school

Detractors, supporters speak in wake of charges of sexual abuse of student

Anne Arundel

October 30, 2002|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

When Larry Mintline took over Arundel High School's drama club in 1996, it was reeling from scandal - the previous drama coach had pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography over the Internet.

Under Mintline's direction, the scandal's shadow faded and the club gained a reputation for impressive student performances and daring productions, including the British musical Blood Brothers. In 2000, the Anne Arundel County Cultural Arts Foundation named him Educator of the Year.

Now, the 36-year-old English teacher confronts a scandal of his own: charges that he sexually abused a 16-year-old male student. His arrest and suspension this month rocked a tight-knit school drama community, while sparking a debate about Mintline's time at Arundel High and oversight by administrators.

Shocked supporters describe him as a dedicated, high-strung coach who inspired youngsters and helped to double attendance at school plays. Many remain loyal, and doubt that the charges are true.

Others say signs of unprofessional behavior were apparent before the arrest, in the form of improper friendships between Mintline and some students, and harsh treatment that drove some students from the club.

One father made a formal complaint about Mintline's treatment of his daughter - involving nothing of a sexual nature - several months before the teacher was accused of abuse. The principal investigated, but officials say they found nothing to indicate that Mintline was a danger to students.

Experts say that although it is difficult to know whether questionable behavior will turn criminal, schools should establish clear policies about teacher-student interactions to protect youngsters.

An explicit policy against fraternization sends a zero-tolerance message and encourages people to look for warning signs, says Robert J. Shoop, a law professor at Kansas State University and an expert in child abuse in school settings. "We shouldn't assume that everyone in teaching has appropriate values," he said. "We should make sure those values are defined."

Although the Anne Arundel school system has a policy against student-teacher dating and discusses improper friendships in teacher training, there is no formal policy against fraternization.

"It's really hard to put some of these ambiguous things in writing," said Synthia Shilling, a staff attorney for the schools. "In the end, it comes down to the teacher's good judgment."

Authorities allege that Mintline, a Glen Burnie resident, fondled the student and engaged in other sexual activity at their homes from July until last month. Mintline has been charged with two counts each of child abuse and fourth-degree sex offense, crimes punishable by up to 32 years in prison.

Police also said in charging documents that Mintline sent sexually explicit e-mails to two other students, although school officials say they never received complaints and no charges were filed based on those allegations. Police say they have not received allegations of abuse involving other students.

Mintline did not respond to several written requests for an interview or to telephone calls to his home.

His lawyer, Tom Morrow, said the teacher "emphatically denies" having engaged in sexual activity with the boy. Morrow also said that Mintline would challenge the child abuse charges on technical grounds.

The father of the alleged victim also declined to comment. The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Took job seriously

Even parents and students who dislike Mintline concede that he took his work seriously. But they say his teaching methods were emotionally cruel and that the club's atmosphere was oppressive.

Some said Mintline yelled at students and purposely upset them to elicit emotional responses in their performances.

"I saw an adult that acted like a spoiled child," said Samuel Crispin, whose son and daughter were in the club for several years. "His way of getting kids to do things was to scream and yell. That's not my way of guiding."

Dianna Ladny said Mintline insulted her daughter in the presence of other students and that the girl dropped out of the drama club after two years.

"He [verbally] attacked her, said things about the way she looked, said things about her religion," Ladny said.

She and other parents said Mintline was unable to draw a clear, professional line between himself and students.

"He touched them a lot," Ladny said. "He played with the girls' hair. He put his arms around the boys. It definitely had my antenna up."

Ladny said she warned her children, three of whom attend Arundel High, to keep their distance from Mintline. She added, however, that she didn't think her concerns were serious enough to report to the school.

Stephen Proctor, a deputy managing editor for The Sun and the only parent who formally complained about Mintline, said several incidents made him worry about students' welfare, although he had no indication of sexual abuse.

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