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Westminster High School teacher placed on administrative leave has prior history of theft in Baltimore City

A Westminster High School English teacher who was sentenced to 90 days in prison in 2018 after she stole thousands of dollars from a Baltimore high school where she was principal, has been placed on administrative leave by the Carroll County public school system.

Leslie N. Lewis, a former principal at Baltimore Community High School, an alternative school that closed in 2016, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to two counts of theft for taking more than $58,000 from the Baltimore City Public Schools system. Lewis’ thefts spanned over three years while she worked as the principal of Baltimore Community High School, according to prosecutors.

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Brenda Bowers, a spokeswoman for Carroll County Public Schools, said Lewis has been employed since Aug. 19 as an English teacher at Westminster High School.

Bowers also confirmed that Lewis is on administrative leave at this time. She did not, however, say whether Lewis’ prior conviction was the reason for the leave.

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“We’re very limited in what we can disclose,” Bowers added.

Attempts to contact Lewis for comment were unsuccessful.

Ernesto Diaz, director of human resources at Carroll County Public Schools, said the hiring of teachers involves several steps, such as filling out an application, providing professional references, fingerprinting and completing teacher verification checks.

“If a person interviews well and the school’s principal has reviewed the information, our curriculum supervisors and our school administrators reach out to the references. Then it comes back to the Office of Human Resources to make that final offer of employment … in some cases this takes a while,” Diaz said.

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Diaz also highlighted legislation which added a step in the teacher hiring process in July 2019. The law requires all Maryland school systems to add a component to the applicant screening and hiring process within 60 days of an employee being hired. A new employee must provide information about any prior investigations of child sexual abuse and sexual misconduct, as well as contact information for all former employers within the previous 10 years.

“The [Maryland House Bill] 486 forms are sent to the applicant’s previous employers if they were in the position where they supervised, cared for, guided, controlled or had routine interaction with minors,” Diaz said.

Diaz declined to answer any questions specific to Lewis’ administrative leave, but he said teachers who violate the law or school system policy go though a very “deliberate” employee discipline process.

“I can’t get into anything that sounds like details on that particular situation, so I’m going to be a little bit broader … employees are entitled to due process, there’s a meeting, they tell their side of the story — that sort of typical piece there,” Diaz said.

In 2018, Lewis was sentenced to 90 days in prison for stealing money from a school bank account that included proceeds from a fundraiser and money from the Department of Social Services.

The account was set up with proceeds from the sale of school uniforms, snacks, school supplies and graduation fees. Lewis used a debit card to make cash withdrawals from the school account totaling about $13,000, according to state prosecutors. She also used the money to gamble at Baltimore casinos, prosecutors said.

In another case between 2013 and 2016, Lewis stole more than $45,000 worth of technology from the city which included a dryer, a Bose speaker system, Apple laptops, laser printers, digital cameras and other items, by using deceptive purchase orders.

In February 2018 Baltimore City Circuit Judge Charles Peters sentenced Lewis to five years for each count of theft, and suspended all but 90 days, according to the state prosecutor’s office. She was to serve five years of supervised probation and was required to pay restitution to the school system of $58,689.

“There is no one more trusted and relied upon in the school system than a school principal,” former State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said in a 2017 statement. “The betrayal of that trust by Ms. Lewis is monumentally offensive and cannot be tolerated.”

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