Issues filled school year

Four who taught and an ex-student are to be tried on serious charges

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

After enjoying three relatively scandal-free years, the Howard County school system seemed to be hit by one embarrassing incident after another this past school year.

In highly publicized arrests, three teachers were charged in separate incidents with having improper sexual contact with students, and a veteran teacher was charged with possession of crack cocaine on school property. Days before the end of classes, a 15-year-old was charged with bringing a semiautomatic handgun and an ammunition clip to his high school.

Top school officials agree that the school year has been less than ideal, but they stress that Howard County remains one of the best school systems around.

"I know that we have the best professional teaching staff, and that we have support staff to augment the great teachers that we have," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "The school system has its issues and its problems. But I think we deal with them in an aggressive manner. It is through our diligence that these things have come to the surface. It's better that they come to the surface than to be hidden."

The troubles surfaced in November, when game officials called the Centennial-Oakland Mills high school football game in the third quarter rather than risk a brawl among fans and players.

The game occurred shortly after the school system adopted a new civility policy intended to discourage bad behavior - including unsportsmanlike conduct - among students, staff members and parents during and after school.

On Jan. 8, Joseph Samuel Ellis, 25, a history teacher at Glenelg High School, was arrested and charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with several students last year.

He is accused of exposing himself to a 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.

Ellis 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.

He was terminated by the school board in April.

On Jan. 12, Alan Meade Beier, 52, a chemistry and physics teacher at River Hill High School, was arrested. He was accused of undressing and photographing a 16-year-old boy in his classroom in January. Police also charged Beier with fondling a 17-year-old female student on two occasions, most recently in the fall. A third student also reported inappropriate contact with Beier.

He was charged with four counts of sexual abuse of minors, three counts of fourth-degree sex offense and four counts of second-degree assault.

Beier has appealed a recommendation by Cousin to terminate his employment.

On Jan. 25, Robert Brazell, 18, who had recently dropped out of Mount Hebron High School, died several days after being beaten with an aluminum baseball bat during a late-night melee involving dozens of youths on a field at the school.

Kevin Klink, 18, a 2006 graduate of Oakland Mills High, was charged with the murder in Brazell's death.

Although neither Klink nor Brazell was enrolled in Howard County schools, several teenagers at the fight - including two taken to the hospital with injuries - were enrolled in county high schools.

On Feb. 15, Kirsten Ann Kinley, 27, a special-education teacher at Marriotts Ridge High, was arrested and charged with having sexual contact with a 15-year-old student in late 2004 and early 2005 while she was teaching at Hammond Middle School.

In May, a second student made similar allegations against Kinley. A grand jury indicted Kinley on three counts of third-degree sex offense involving that boy, who was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents in late 2004. Neither youth was one of her students.

Kinley was removed from paid administrative leave in early March. She was terminated by the school board last month.

On May 16, Alan Silberman, 62, a guidance counselor at Howard High, was arrested and charged with having crack cocaine in his vehicle on the school parking lot.

Silberman, who has worked in county schools for 35 years, was charged with possession and has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Most recently, a county police officer arrested a 15-year-old freshman June 15 and charged him with carrying a semiautomatic handgun in his waistband at Hammond High School.

The student was arrested after two students reported to a teacher that they overheard him talking about having a gun.

The teacher relayed the students' suspicions to the school's resource officer. The police officer removed the student from class and, during a search, found an unloaded gun in his waistband and an ammunition clip with nine or 10 rounds in his pants pocket, according to police.

Police have not said why the student brought the gun to school.

A Howard County juvenile court judge committed the teenager to the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center, a regional detention facility in Rockville.

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