No punishment for silence on abuse


Anne Arundel County school board members last night declared for the first time in public session that they won't discipline employees who failed to report suspected child abuse between 1985 and 1993. They bluntly urged PTA representatives to drop the issue.

Board President Thomas Twombly said "there is nothing to be gained by punitive action against employees acting in good faith. . . . We believe this matter is closed."

Last night's heated discussion of disciplinary action, which lasted about 10 minutes, began with the public testimony of Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs.

"Disciplinary action is necessary to ensure that this type of behavior -- this looking the other way -- doesn't happen again," Mrs. Roeding said.

"I think the time has come for reasonable people to agree to disagree," said board member Michael A. Pace. "The special investigator, the state's attorney and the police came to the conclusion that these people were innocent cogs in a flawed machine. That machine is fixed."

His remarks and comments by other board members offended Vicki Rafel, president of the Maryland PTA, who attended last night's board meeting to show the state PTA's support of the local council.

"I was just amazed that they would indulge in those types of remarks, pointing fingers at people rather than solving the issue," Mrs. Rafel said. "One reason I went to [last night's] board meeting was that we wanted to makeit very clear that this not Carolyn's activity, it's the PTA council's activity. I'm glad I went and saw it for myself."

Mrs. Rafel told the board that failing to discipline employees who violated state law could give the appearance that things were "being swept flatly under the rug."

Evidence that employees knew about many suspected cases of child abuse over at least a nine-year period -- from 1985 to 1993 -- came to light during an investigation into the mishandling of a case involving Ronald W. Price, a former Northeast teacher who confessed to having sex with students.

An investigation found at least 30 cases in which employees at many levels in the school system knew of suspicious activities among teachers and students yet never acted to stop the alleged abuse. The probe also showed that the practice -- which went against policy and state law -- was to investigate such allegations internally.

State law requires that any education system employee report suspected child abuse to police or the local Department of Social Services, but there is no legal penalty for failing to do so. However, there are state and local school regulations outlining punishments, up to firing, for failing to follow that law.

"This is a message to parents: 'Don't ask questions, just keep your mouth shut. The system will do what it wants,' " Mrs. Roeding said.

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