Teacher arrests spur action

Academic monitoring planned for students affected by incidents

January 24, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

Howard County school officials will closely monitor the academic achievement of students who have been affected by the recent arrests of two county high school teachers accused of having inappropriate contact with students.

While Alan Meade Beier, a 52-year-old chemistry and physics teacher at River Hill, and Joseph Samuel Ellis, a 25-year-old history and American government teacher at Glenelg High School, are on paid administrative leave, their classes will be taught by substitute teachers. Eventually, long-term replacements are to be hired.

"There has to be a balance between sensitivity and routine," said David A. Bruzga, an administrative director for 16 secondary schools, including Glenelg High. "You can't go too far in either direction. You have to make sure that students stay focused on what they have to do. Kids really do need structure and stay focused while still receiving the support from adults around them."

Beier, who was arrested Jan. 12, is free on $85,000 bond. He is charged with three counts of sexual child abuse, three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of fourth-degree sex offense. If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 108 years in prison and fined $10,500. Beier's preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 16 in Howard County District Court.

Ellis, who was arrested Jan 5., is free on $150,000 bond. He 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 could face a maximum of 37 years in prison and a $52,000 fine. A court date for Ellis has not been scheduled.

Neither has returned repeated messages to their homes.

When a teacher is absent from a class for less than two weeks, the school system fills the position from a pool of 1,200 substitute teachers. Longer leaves are covered by more permanent teachers who are certified in the subject area being taught, according to Suzanne Zilber, a manager in the school system's office of human resources.

"[Administrators] are going to look for the most highly qualified candidate they can find," Zilber said. "At the high school level, you have to have someone who understands the content and the curriculum. If they have a teaching background, then they should be able to do some assessing of where the students are."

Glenelg and River Hill students said that both teachers were popular.

One of Ellis' former U.S. history students described him as a role model. "I learned a lot in his class," the 17-year-old senior said. "I think he was a good teacher."

Beier was named River Hill's 2001 Teacher Of The Year by the senior class.

"He was a really good teacher," said a 17-year-old senior who was in one of Beier's physics classes. "He hasn't failed a kid in years."

At River Hill, which regularly produces some of the highest standardized test scores in the state, the loss of the veteran Beier -- who has more than 30 years of classroom experience -- could hurt the academic success of students.

Bruzga said the academic achievement at both schools will not suffer because of substitute teachers.

"A lot of the time, we get experienced teachers as long-term subs," said Bruzga. "There are some really good experienced substitutes that are able to pick up where the teachers leave off."

While a substitute is covering for a teacher on leave, instructional team leaders (department heads) assist to ensure that quality instruction is provided.

"They jump in and help support subs," Bruzga explained. "They help plan lessons, resources. It's a team effort. We want the students to succeed."

School officials also will assess a student's ability to return to a sense of normalcy. In some cases, that will mean granting some students test exemptions.

It is not uncommon for students to be granted exemptions in times of need, Bruzga said.

"I think there are certainly individual situations that would warrant special consideration," Bruzga said. "Obviously, we would not want students to experience a traumatic loss and be expected to come in and take an exam. A principal would use their judgment to make that decision. If there is a need for any extra support, the counselors and teachers would work to meet the needs of the students."

Patti Caplan, school system spokeswoman, would not say whether any of the students connected with the cases had been exempted from taking the semester exams last week.

"[The schools] are going to be flexible with kids and their final exams for the semester," she said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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