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Parents file civil case against Howard teacher imprisoned for child pornography

Jeremy Sykes, 45, was found guilty of multiple counts of child pornography in January.

The parents of a Folly Quarter Middle School student who was the victim of a substitute teacher convicted of child pornography are suing the teacher and the Howard County Public School System for a total of more than $600,000, according to a complaint filed in Howard County Circuit Court.

Jeremy Flagg Sykes, 45, was found guilty of multiple counts of child pornography in January. Authorities said he had digitally altered pictures of female students, placing their faces onto images of bodies engaged in sexual acts. He is serving a sentence of 16 years and nine months at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup.

Sykes, who was hired as a substitute teacher at Folly Quarter in October 2013, uploaded the photos onto image-hosting site Photobucket, where they were viewed by others, according to the complaint. Investigators from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children discovered the images in December 2013 and reported Sykes to the Howard County Police Department.

His case will be reviewed by a three-judge panel in Howard County Circuit Court on Aug. 5, in which judges could potentially decide to lessen his sentence.

The civil complaint, filed by the parents of one of the students – whose identity is kept anonymous because she is the victim of a sexual crime – accuses the school system of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress for hiring Sykes, who had a criminal record that they allege would have shown up on a background check.

According to a Maryland judiciary case search, Sykes was involved in domestic violence and second-degree assault cases in 2012 in Towson District Court.

The parents say Sykes also should not have had access to student photographs without being "properly and sufficiently [vetted]" by the school system.

The family is requesting $150,000 in damages from the Howard County Board of Education.

Last January, as news spread of Sykes' arrest, the school system said in a statement that all of its applicants undergo background checks, a process that "includes searches of Maryland judiciary cases and the sexual offenders registry, fingerprinting and a criminal background check with both the state of Maryland and the FBI."

After his arrest, Sykes was banned from school property and made ineligible for future teaching jobs.

The complaint also seeks $450,000 in damages from Sykes, arguing that he violated the student's rights, invaded her privacy and inflicted emotional distress upon her and her family by making and posting the pornographic images. The suit calls the photographs "explicit, embarrassing and reputation-tarnishing" and adds that the student's parents have "experienced insomnia, marital issues, forgetfulness," as well as a disruption of their eating and sleeping patterns because of the "severe emotional distress" caused by the photos.

Michael Herman, who represents the student and her parents, said the family decided to bring the civil case to hold Sykes and the school system accountable.

"Parents who entrust their children to the Howard County public schools have to know that their children are safe for the hours that they are with their children," he said. "My clients believe, in their hearts, that the school system let them down and let down the parents of each and every child who was sexually exploited in this case."

Herman said the family hoped the case would lead to stricter rules about who can access student photos and other personal files, as well as tighter job applicant screening procedures.

An attorney for Sykes did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the school system said officials had not yet seen the lawsuit, and declined comment.

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