For the second time in less than a week, a popular teacher at a Howard County high school has been arrested and charged with multiple counts of sex offenses against students.
Police arrested Alan Meade Beier, a 52-year-old science teacher at the top-performing River Hill High School in Clarksville, yesterday at his home.
They say he undressed and photographed a 16-year-old male student Monday evening in his classroom. Police also say he fondled a 17-year-old female student on two occasions, most recently in the fall.
Beier, who was chosen River Hill's 2001 Teacher of the Year by the senior class, has been placed on administrative leave by the school system.
Last week, Joseph Samuel Ellis, 25, a popular history teacher at Glenelg High School, was arrested and charged with several sex crimes. He is accused of exposing himself to one student, persuading a second to meet him at a park with the promise of alcohol, and sending a third suggestive computer messages.
"I can say positively that students are safe in our schools and in our classrooms," Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said yesterday. "It is unfortunate that incidents of this type take place. We will investigate and take appropriate and deliberative action."
Howard County does not have a specific session about student-teacher relationships during its teacher orientation held before the beginning of each school year.
All teachers are required to complete training in recognizing child abuse and then sign a document that gives an "explicit definition" of what child abuse is, according to Howard County's spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
In the wake of the latest arrest, Howard County school officials are examining their procedures and policies.
"We debrief after situations like this," Caplan said. "We are always looking to see things that we can do better. This is something that we will look at. However, these situations relate to illegal acts that are not specific to the teacher's role. This is illegal in the general community."
Beier is charged with three counts of sexual child abuse, three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of fourth-degree sex offense. If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to a maximum of 108 years in prison and fined $10,500.
An employee at the Howard County Detention Center indicated last night that Beier had bond.
According to charging documents, the male student went with two other students Monday at school and asked Beier for community service hours.
Beier allegedly gave the other students "normal assignments to complete" but asked the third youth to come back later in the evening to assist him with a "special job" in connection with the Mr. RHHS (River Hill High School) contest, a lively all-male pageant in which students compete for votes from their peers. Beier served as the teacher adviser to the contest, Caplan confirmed.
The student was asked to bring a bathing suit to the meeting. Later that evening, the student alleges that he met Beier - who brought a camera and lighting equipment - and the two went to his classroom, where they assembled the equipment.
The student said that Beier began to take photos of him with his clothes on. Beier took pictures of the student with his shirt off, then the student removed his clothing except for his bathing suit. Eventually, the charging documents said, Beier "pulled down both [the student's] swimming trunks and boxers" and photographed him.
A search warrant of Beier's home Tuesday yielded a camera with images that supported the student's claims, according to the Howard County Police Department.
Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman, would not provide additional details involving the images on the camera.
While police were investigating the allegations of the male student, they learned about a 17-year-old female student who said that Beier, her teacher, grabbed her buttocks on two occasions.
The first time, during May or June, she said, Beier walked by her and grabbed her buttocks while she was in his room. She said Beier said: "Oh, excuse me." She told police she believed that Beier had intentionally grabbed her.
On the second occasion, in September or October, she alleges that Beier grabbed her buttock and "cupped" it.
The Maryland Judicial Database indicates that Beier has no previous criminal history.
Beier began teaching at River Hill in 1996, after teaching for 20 years in Prince George's County, according to Caplan.
John White, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Public Schools, could not disclose Beier's status when he left the school system.
"I am not able to disclose personnel information even if the person is no longer an employee," White said.
Beier was in school Monday but did not return the rest of the week, leading to rumors about his disappearance.
On Tuesday, police visited the school, Llewellyn confirmed. Also that day, several students said that Principal William Ryan made an announcement acknowledging Beier's absence and stating that it was "a personal matter."
By Wednesday, students started wearing homemade T-shirts that read "Free Beier." Some students had their T-shirts on yesterday when they learned of Beier's arrest during an announcement.
Students were shocked, according to one 17-year-old senior who has Beier as a physics teacher.
"He was a great teacher," the student said. "He made everyone feel welcome. He always brought fun activities to class for us to learn."
Another of Beier's students, a 17-year-old senior, said the teacher was polarizing.
"You either loved him or you hated him," she said. "Most of the kids just loved him."
Margaret Bowers, the parent of a River Hill junior who played on an indoor soccer team and pingpong team that Beier coached, said Beier was "approachable, friendly and very caring."
"He was a respectable gentleman," the Clarksville mother said.
"I encouraged my son to have him as a mentor. He was able to reach students on a level that they appreciated."
Neighbors in Beier's Columbia neighborhood were shocked to learn of his arrest.
"I was never around him socially, but he appeared to be a nice guy. ... When I saw him outside mowing the lawn, I would say 'hi' to him," said neighbor Thomas Roberts. "He was a nice guy, as any of my neighbors are."
Sun reporter Tyrone Richardson contributed to this article.