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Md. schools chief pondered taking control of Arundel system amid sex scandal


Maryland School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says she considered taking over the Anne Arundel County school system last summer as problems with its handling of child abuse cases surfaced in the wake of charges against Northeast High School teacher Ronald W. Price.

She rejected that idea when the county school board agreed to follow her orders, Dr. Grasmick said last week.

"If we had issued the action plan and the board had been defensive . . . and had not pursued it, then I think we would have sought legal advice on what would be the appropriate intervention," she said. "They haven't faltered at this point."

The problems in Anne Arundel County surfaced last spring with the arrest of Price, the first of four teachers to be accused this year of having sex with students. Price, a teacher at Northeast High School for 24 years, was convicted in October of sexually abusing three students and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

A second Northeast teacher, Laurie S. Cook, was acquitted by a jury Friday on one count of child abuse. Two other teachers, one from Northeast, await trial.

But Price drew national attention to the county by claiming on "Geraldo" and other television shows that school administrators knew of his proclivity for dating students and did not stop him.

Two subsequent investigations proved his point, leading to the resignation of Superintendent C. Berry Carter II, who was informed in a 1989 memo about allegations made against Price.

Results of a third and final investigation, to determine whether other high schools have had similar problems, are to be released Wednesday.

Anne Arundel County isn't the only Maryland jurisdiction where teachers are alleged to have been involved with students. This year there were also cases involving a Wicomico County teacher and a Howard County coach.

Yet the situation in Anne Arundel County has held public nTC attention and prompted three investigations.

"This was unique. You had all kinds of public statements made by this man [Price] suggesting that people knew what was going on and that he was going to write a book and make a movie and profit from it," Dr. Grasmick said. "And the school board of Anne Arundel County asked us to look into the situation at Northeast."

She said other school systems have not asked for her help and are "to the best of their abilities, handling the situations."

The turnover in superintendents has contributed to Anne Arundel schools' problems, Dr. Grasmick said. The system has had four superintendents in the past six years.

"High turnover seems to be part of the national fabric, and being a superintendent is a difficult and complex job today because you're trying to satisfy many different audiences," Dr. Grasmick said. "Unless there is consensus and consistency in the vision on the part of the board, it creates subsequent problems. Each [superintendent] comes in with a slightly different agenda, and it's difficult for teachers and administrators to shift course."

Dr. Grasmick said she would have "no voice" in whom the school board picks to succeed Mr. Carter.

"I do have an interest, though. I want that system to have a strong leader," she said. "They need someone who has the credentials, who is a strong leader and who has an incredible set of human relations skills, . . . someone who is clear about what internal things need to change."

Dr. Grasmick had high praise for acting Superintendent Carol S. Parham's performance since July 30, but made clear her remarks were "not an endorsement." Dr. Parham is widely considered to be a strong candidate for the post.

Dr. Grasmick said the school system needs someone who can "restore the public's confidence."

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