A substitute teacher arrested Friday and accused of inappropriately touching a Montgomery County student worked as a substitute in 43 Howard County schools during the past two years, interim superintendent Michael J. Martirano announced this afternoon.
Steven Katz, 59, of Columbia, worked in the Howard County Public School System for six years and may have taught at more schools, Martirano said. Officials are in the process of reviewing his employment history to determine an exact number.
“Understand very clearly that when it comes to the safety of our young people that I take that very serious, and that we’re doing everything that we can, every day, to protect our young people,” Martirano said at a news conference outside the school system’s Ellicott City headquarters. “If somebody is in our school system — a staff member, a volunteer, or anyone — causing harm to our children, I will take swift and decisive action to ensure that that never happens again.”
Katz turned himself in to Montgomery County police on Friday night after a student at Cloverly Elementary School in Silver Spring told his parents that Katz had touched him in a way that made him feel uncomfortable, authorities said.
The child’s parents notified school administrators, who contacted police. Katz is charged with sexual abuse of a minor and a fourth-degree sexual offense, according to police.
Robert Bonsib, a Greenbelt-based criminal defense attorney representing Katz, said his client denies the charges.
"Mr. Katz has served for eight years in a number of schools and in a number of jurisdictions without anyone accusing him of any misconduct,” Bonsib said. “Mr. Katz denies the allegations against him and fully expects to be vindicated as this matter proceeds through the court system."
No complaints have been filed against Katz in Howard County, Martirano said. As a precaution, Martirano sent a letter over the weekend to all Howard County parents encouraging them to talk to their children about any interactions they may have had with Katz.
“Any concerns should be shared immediately with the detectives at 240-773-5400,” the letter said.
A spokesman for Howard County schools said parents could also contact the Howard County Police Department at 410-313-2630 or the Department of Social Services at 410-872-4203.
To become a substitute teacher in Howard County, Katz was required to undergo a criminal background check, have his fingerprints taken and submit to a detailed reference check. That process raised no red flags. Martirano said administrators are reviewing the requirements and “putting in place a system to more periodically conduct background checks.”
The superintendent encouraged open communication, imploring community members to speak to their children and to share with authorities any “bad information” they learn.
“One of our best defenses in terms of this is that we’re a people organization. We employ 12,000 full- and part-time individuals who go through a series of background checks and screenings, but also understand that we cannot always control the behaviors of individuals,” he said. “When we find out something, we need the support from our community to inform us.”