Woodlawn High School physics instructor Curtis Lee Jones watched his students achieve sixth place last Sunday in a national solar bike race. On Friday, he was given the school's Unsung Hero Award, an Employee of the Year Award -- and suspended.
The abrupt change of fortune resulted from what police said was a violation of probation and what Jones said was his own mistake. The 38-year-old Woodlawn resident was arrested at the school Thursday, the day before classes ended.
The arrest stemmed from a 1997 handgun possession charge, which Jones said was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Details could not be confirmed yesterday with the Howard County authorities who handled the case. But Jones said he was a passenger in a friend's car when it was pulled over by officers, who found a gun underneath a seat.
Court records say the charges were disposed of Sept. 22, when Jones was placed on probation until he completed 100 hours of community service and wrote a 2,500-word essay on the danger of guns.
The essay was due in 180 days -- homework two months overdue when an arrest warrant was issued May 21.
"If I had to blame anyone for this, I can only kick myself for not following through," said Jones, who has taught for two years at Woodlawn High. "I thought I could do it in the summer when I
had more time."
Jones said he neglected to read the "fine print" of the probation requirements and was caught up in the solar bike competition.
Woodlawn High officials would not comment on the arrest or suspension, and Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler said he could not discuss the situation because it was a personnel matter.
"If an employee is charged with a crime, what typically happens is the employee is suspended with pay, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation," he added.
After that, the schools superintendent reviews the case and takes the "appropriate" action, he said.
Jones confirmed that he was suspended Friday and could not teach in Baltimore County until further notice.
The teacher said his arrest by Baltimore County police was done "very discreetly."
"They didn't even put me in handcuffs until I got to the police station," he said.
Bill Toohey, spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said the teacher gave officers no problems.
"There was no fuss or feathers," he said. County police made the arrest because Jones lives and works in the Woodlawn area.
Jones spent the day in custody. Friday, he was back at school -- finding himself the winner of the two awards and suspended, he said.
Jones planned to spend the summer teaching -- in the past, he said, he's taught at Coppin State College and Morgan State University -- but said that's not possible after the events of last week.
He said he enjoyed his job and called Woodlawn High a "great school," but added that he may leave the education field for private industry.
Sounding slightly annoyed, he noted that teachers don't make large salaries and talked about being "put through all of this."
But also, he acknowledged, he was annoyed at himself.
"I'm really, really embarrassed, and I'm regretful for this," he said.
Pub Date: 6/07/98