A popular history teacher at Glenelg High School in Howard County has been charged with several sex crimes in which he is accused of exposing himself to one student in a classroom, sending suggestive computer messages to another and persuading a third to meet him at a park with the promise of alcohol. He is accused of abusing her.
Joseph Samuel Ellis, 25, a graduate of the Howard County school system, was arrested at 10:30 p.m. Friday by Howard County police. He was released Saturday and is free on $150,000 bond. He has been placed on administrative leave by the school system.
Ellis is charged with child abuse, two counts of fourth-degree sex offense and two counts of solicitation of a minor. If convicted of all charges, he faces a maximum of 37 years in prison and a $52,000 fine.
Ellis, of Elkridge, has taught at Glenelg High School in western Howard County since April 2005. He is also an assistant coach for the school's varsity football and boys lacrosse teams.
Yesterday, students and staff members were informed of the allegations and Ellis' arrest. Members of the school system's Crisis Intervention Team were sent to the school, and parents were informed of the situation via e-mail and a letter from Principal Karl Schindler.
On Friday, police were contacted after a 17-year-old student told school staff members that Ellis had exposed himself to her and tried to force her to touch him while the two were alone in a classroom in December, according to charging documents.
She also alleged that Ellis repeatedly sent her sexually explicit text-messages stating that he wanted to "hook up," a term that has a range of meanings - including making out or having sexual intercourse.
Through the course of interviewing the first student, police discovered two more students who alleged inappropriate behavior by Ellis.
A second accuser, a 16-year-old girl, told police that she met Ellis at an undisclosed Columbia park last summer - after he promised to provide her with alcohol - and that he committed a sexual offense against her.
She also alleged that Ellis, a 1999 graduate of Oakland Mills High School, sent her text messages of a sexual nature.
In one message, Ellis stated that she "looked hot" and the shirt she wore in class that day "made her breast look good," according to charging documents.
A third student reported receiving inappropriate sexual content from Ellis on her computer. Additional charges from the alleged incident could be filed later.
It is unclear whether Ellis taught the three students. School officials would not disclose that information to protect the identity of the students.
Police would not discuss whether text messages were saved or the nature of any other evidence collected.
Ellis did not respond to messages from The Sun left on the home number listed in court documents.
No attorney was listed in court documents. Police and prosecutors said they did not know whether Ellis had retained a lawyer.
Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association - the union representing 5,500 employees - was contacted by The Sun last night but would not comment.
Students at the high school were "shocked" by the news, according to one 17-year-old senior, who took Ellis' American history class last year.
"A lot of people felt bad for him and were scared for him," said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Everyone was uneasy about everything."
The student said that he still views Ellis as a role model.
"I looked up to him," he said. "I still do."
A 2006 graduate of the school described Ellis as handsome and said that he had good rapport with students.
"He was very popular," she said. "Very likable."
Ellis graduated from Western Maryland College in 2004. The school changed its name to McDaniel College in 2003, but students already enrolled were allowed to keep "Western Maryland College" on their diplomas.
Michele Leiberman, a spokeswoman for McDaniel College, confirmed Ellis' graduation, but she said she could not provide any more information about him.
Students pursuing a teaching degree at McDaniel go through rigorous training that includes repeated warnings against inappropriate relations with students, according to Leiberman. Also, students meet with a lawyer from the Maryland State Teachers Association who specifically talks about appropriate relationships with students.
Ochieng' K'Olewe, an associate professor of education at McDaniel College, said students are taught to present a "professional disposition," which includes "how they interact with students, parents, other teachers, and even how they dress. This is one of the things on which our students are assessed, and it is a major part of their grade for their practicum and student teaching."
Howard County does not have a specific session on student-teacher relationships during its new-teacher orientation. All teachers are required to sign a child abuse policy, which gives a very "explicit definition of what child abuse is," according to school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
This is the latest incident of a teacher accused of inappropriate behavior with a student in the Baltimore area. In November, a former Baltimore County schoolteacher was accused of having sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl. At the time of his arrest, he was teaching at a Baltimore City middle school.
In 2001, two young female teachers who were temporary employees of Francis Scott Key High School in Carroll County were accused of having sex with teenage boys.
Also in 2001, a veteran fifth-grade math teacher at Taneytown Elementary School was arrested and charged with sexually abusing five boys over a 23-year period.