Except that his fish, Oscar, had died, Kevin M. Lindsey returned to the principal's office at McCormick Elementary School yesterday to find everything just as he left it more than three months ago.
The clock on the wall, untouched when daylight saving time lapsed, was an hour fast. The daily calendar, made of blue children's blocks, read Oct. 8.
But in Lindsey's life, so much has happened since then. First, he was put on paid administrative leave amid allegations that he sexually assaulted two former pupils at Pine Grove Elementary School in Carney in the late 1970s. Then his mother died. Then he got married. Then he was awakened one Saturday morning and arrested on child-abuse and sex-offense charges, only for prosecutors to drop those charges 18 days later.
Through it all, said the 50-year-old father of three, he wanted nothing more than to go back to work at McCormick, the Rosedale school he has led since 2001. Yesterday, he got his wish.
"This is home," said Lindsey, dressed in a navy suit, humming and snapping his fingers as he prepared for an 8 a.m. faculty meeting. "I just wanted to come back. I'm home."
As the first bell rang at 8:25 a.m. and children streamed inside, Lindsey, smiling, was waiting in the foyer. In an instant, scores of little arms were wrapping around him. As many as 10 children hugged him at once.
"I was cold and now I'm warm," he told them. He complimented their new haircuts and pierced ears and marveled at how they've grown. His responses to their whispers included:
"I missed you, too, baby doll. ... Hey, peanut. ... Hey, how come you have a nicer coat than me?... You work hard for me today. ... You saw me on the news? ... Was that me? ... Was he handsome? ... Did he speak well? ... That might have been me."
Midmorning, Lindsey stopped by his office to find a white poster taped to the door. Signed by every child in a kindergarten class, it read:
Dear Mr. Lindsey,
We missed you! We love you. We are very glad to see you. Have a good day.
There were also cards and stuffed animals.
Staff members wore "Welcome back Mr. Lindsey" badges made of yellow construction paper pinned to their shirts. Before school, teachers ran down the hall to hug him, shrieking and jumping at the sight of him.
"You look wonderful!" one exclaimed.
"I've lost 25 pounds," Lindsey responded. "That's what felony charges will do to you."
Lindsey was charged last month with two counts of child abuse, two counts of second-degree sex offense and one count of third-degree sex offense. The charges, according to court records, were based on the "recovered memories" of two sisters, who reported the allegations to police over the summer.
One woman, now 35, called Lindsey in early October and accused him of sexually assaulting her in the school gym when she was in fourth grade at Pine Grove in 1979, according to charging documents. Her sister, now 34, told police that Lindsey assaulted her in a school bathroom when she was in second grade at Pine Grove in 1977, according to the documents.
Within days of the call from the older sister, Lindsey was on paid administrative leave. He was reassigned to the school district's professional development office, where he reported for about a week this month.
Anxious and distressed
Most of his time away from McCormick was spent at home, anxious and distressed, he said. He was under a doctor's care. A new dog, a Westie named Jackson Wyatt, kept him company.
Despite the allegations and the death of his mother Nov. 2, Lindsey and Bettie Karst, the English department chairwoman at Middle River Middle School, went ahead with plans to marry Nov. 27.
Speaking to the media after charges were filed Dec. 11, Lindsey vehemently maintained his innocence. On Dec. 29, he was driving to the bank to take out a loan for his legal defense when his lawyer called on his cell phone to say prosecutors were dropping all charges.
"We felt we couldn't sustain the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said that day.
Prosecutors had no comment yesterday on Lindsey's return to McCormick. "That's a matter solely in the discretion of the Baltimore County school system," said Jason G. League, an assistant state's attorney.
News of return
Superintendent Joe A. Hairston told Lindsey last week that he would return to a school as a principal, Lindsey said, but he did not receive official notification that it would be McCormick until Sunday. McCormick teachers said they were told at a staff meeting Friday that Lindsey would return.
Lindsey's first day back was the school's first day without the assistant principal who filled in while he was gone.
In place of the assistant principal, who was transferred to another school, Lindsey spent much of the day attending meetings to review the services being provided to children with disabilities. But he found time to visit classrooms, where children showed off their knowledge of multiplying three-digit numbers and finding perimeters.
The work that lies ahead includes reviewing the school budget, looking for grant money for a math program and arranging for the school library to be open for children one day a week this summer. Lindsey said he initiated many academic programs early this school year, and a top priority is to assess how they are working.
The task is daunting, he said, but he is embracing it. A month ago, he thought his career was over.
"Being here," he said, "is just an incredible turn of events."
Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.