- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
St. Mary’s public schools will ramp up employee conduct training at the start of next school year after several educators were dismissed or resigned amid allegations of improper actions in recent weeks.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said an increased level of accountability and reporting contributed to the relatively high number of incidents made public this year, and emphasized that it is important to report incidents of child abuse or harassment.
“Everybody in our community has a role in keeping our children safe,” Martirano said.
Arturo Vicente Leon II, 29, of California through his lawyer said earlier this month that he planned to contest charges filed in Baltimore that he sexually solicited a police detective posing as a child and unlawfully displayed obscene material.
Leon taught social studies at Esperanza, and coached sports at Great Mills High School. His employment with the school system ended on June 12. Martirano said there were no indications of wrongdoing involving Leon and any students from St. Mary’s public schools.
In May an assistant principal from Great Mills High School was terminated and earlier this month a teacher from the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center resigned following allegations of improper conduct.
“Both of those individuals are no longer employed by the St. Mary’s public school system,” Martirano said last week. Law enforcement has brought no charges against either of these former employees.
Christopher Cardin, an assistant principal at Great Mills, was terminated May 23, according to the school system’s human resources department. Cardin had worked with St. Mary’s public schools since August 2006.
Ernest Laurel, a former teacher at the Forrest center, resigned on June 14 after a separate investigation, the superintendent said. Laurel was listed on the school’s website as a computer networking teacher who also worked with the Tech Connect program, which brings in select ninth grade students who struggled in middle school to expose them to the Forrest center’s programs.
Laurel began work with St. Mary’s public schools the same day in August 2006 as Cardin, according to the human resources department.
In both cases “members of the community” brought forward concerns about the employees, Martirano said.
“Both were under investigation for concern for misconduct in office,” the superintendent said.
Martirano said he would not discuss any other details related to either employee.
On June 17, former Great Mills High School teacher Lowell A. Johnson, 65, of Lexington Park acknowledged in court that there was evidence to support a charge of sexually abusing a girl in his home. Johnson’s 36 years of employment with St. Mary’s public schools ended Sept. 21, 2012. He had been on paid administrative leave for about two weeks after he was arrested.
Martirano said the community should maintain its trust in teachers and others in schools, despite the improper conduct by a few.
The school system has a confidential reporting hotline that anyone can call, or suspicious incidents can be reported directly to him or school principals, he said.
When a teacher or other school employee is accused of improper conduct with a child, investigations can involve law enforcement authorities as well as school administrators, including the department of safety and security.
All school employees go through background screenings prior to being hired.
“These people had no history of wrongdoing” that would have showed up in a criminal background check, Anna Laughlin, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County, said of those who were dismissed or resigned.
School employees are required to annually participate in child abuse and sexual harassment training, called CASH.
That training outlines inappropriate relations between school employees and students, including levels of fraternization up to child sexual abuse.
Social media has created even more challenges in terms of communication between school employees and students, Martirano said.
He said instructors will ramp up training for all school employees at the beginning of the school year in August and make expectations and consequences as clear as possible.
Violating those policies can lead to disciplinary actions including being fired and losing a professional teaching certification, Martirano said.
School employees, through their training, are also told that they must report suspected child abuse and neglect. Martirano said anyone can come to the school system’s central office to review the CASH training.
The topic of mandatory reporting is reinforced when the Education Association of St. Mary’s County brings in a lawyer at the start of each year to talk to members about their legal rights, what to do if accused of wrongdoing and the importance of reporting suspected child abuse or inappropriate relationships, Laughlin said.
“We are legally responsible if we suspect child abuse is going on and we have to report it,” Laughlin said.