Glenelg High School was in the process of recovering from the arrest of a popular history teacher on charges of sexual misconduct with students when the school's community received a second shock: the death of a 16-year-old junior in a sledding accident.
Ryan Conley, 16, died Monday after a plastic sled he was riding crashed into a tree on his family's Lisbon farm. He was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead.
"It does seem like we have a black cloud hanging over our head these days," said Johnnie Nussbaum, Glenelg's PTSA president. "It is unfortunate. Our kids have had to deal with a lot. The kids are resilient, but it has taken its toll."
Members of the Howard County school system's crisis intervention team went to the 1,182-student Glenelg High yesterday and met with staff and students. They also visited the school after teacher Joseph Samuel Ellis was arrested in January.
"When we are dealing with one school with repeat trauma, that would lead us to anticipate a greater response," said Ivan Croft, chairman of the crisis intervention team. "Future crisis events can bring up emotional response from other events. We are aware of that. We do not forget that can have an impact on the crisis."
In addition, Howard County school employees regularly deal with problems that affect students, said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the system.
"Teachers and counselors make a point of paying close attention," Caplan said. "I'm sure Glenelg, like any other school, tries to create an environment where students feel comfortable coming forward if they are having problems dealing with something."
Glenelg Principal Karl Schindler called Conley's death "very, very tragic news" when reached by phone at his home Monday evening. He declined to comment yesterday about how his students were coping with the tragedy. Conley's family members also declined to comment yesterday.
Two weeks ago, Ellis, 25, was indicted on charges of sexual abuse of a minor, two counts of fourth-degree sex offense, indecent exposure, display of obscene material to a minor and telephone misuse. Ellis, who was arrested Jan. 5, is accused of exposing himself to one student, persuading a second to meet him at a park with the promise of alcohol and sending a third suggestive computer messages.
Nussbaum said the school was shocked by the allegations but that she expects the Glenelg community to bounce back.
"Even when we get news like this, we have so many other positive things to focus on," she said about the Ellis case. "We picked up our bootstraps and kept on moving. The kids I carpool around don't talk about it. It is not a topic of discussion."
Nussbaum said that though she couldn't assess the mood of students after Conley's death, "I'm sure they are very distraught at this moment. I think that it is a sad day."
The crisis intervention team's 45 members split up to cover four geographic regions in Howard County. In addition, each school has 12 to 14 teachers who are part of a school-based crisis team.
Crisis team members' duties do not end with counseling. They also verify facts associated with an event and disseminate information to the school community, Croft said.
Team members write letters that are sent to parents and prepare scripts for secretaries to read to concerned callers such as parents and community members.
Conley's death - the second sledding-related fatality in the Baltimore region since Friday - occurred in a hilly, rural part of western Howard County, according to the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services. The teen was sledding with his twin sister, neighbors said.
Meanwhile, Howard County government issued a warning yesterday about the danger of sledding. "Yesterday alone, accidents included a teen fatality and two children who were seriously injured," the news release said.
Howard County system principals have not been directed to inform students about the dangers involved with lower temperatures and ice and snow, Caplan said.
"I can't imagine that there would be anything that we would be able to do," Caplan said. "It's not that I want to shirk responsibility. ... Whenever you have an accident of this nature, it calls attention to the risks with even the simplest activities."