Students at River Hill High School knew something was awry Tuesday when Alan Meade Beier, a popular science teacher, did not show up for class and police searched his room.
Little did the students know that the 52-year-old Beier, who was named the school's 2001 Teacher of the Year by the senior class, would be charged with several sex offenses stemming from alleged inappropriate contact with two students. Charges include three counts of sexual child abuse, three counts of second-degree assault and three counts of fourth-degree sex offense.
Beier is the second Howard County teacher in less than a week to be charged with sexual misconduct with students.
Joseph Samuel Ellis, a 25-year-old history teacher at Glenelg High School, was charged Monday with child abuse, two counts of fourth-degree sex offense and two counts of solicitation of a minor.
Beier's absence and police presence on campus Tuesday sparked many rumors.
"[Students] said everything that you could believe," said a 17-year-old senior female at the school. "There wasn't a particular rumor [that stood out]." Students asked that their names not be used for this article. That day, according to students, River Hill Principal William Ryan announced to students and staff members that Beier was absent because of a personal matter.
According to students, some felt that Beier was in legal trouble. Some students came to school Wednesday wearing homemade T-shirts that read "Free Mr. Beier." Some were wearing their shirts when a statement was made Friday informing them that Beier had been arrested in connection with having inappropriate contact with fellow classmates.
Students at River Hill were aware of the earlier arrest at Glenelg. In fact, some students were making jokes about the Glenelg case until hearing the announcement of Beier's arrest, according to some at the Clarksville school.
"For the same thing to happen in one week is a total shock," said a 17-year-old male senior who was in Beier's physics class. "They couldn't believe it."
The student added that he did not believe the allegations.
"I couldn't imagine him doing such acts," he said. "I still think he was a great teacher."
Diane Mikulis, chairman of the Howard County Board of Education and a River Hill parent, said she was in shock.
"Certainly it is very, very disturbing," Mikulis said. "I don't know what the truth is. Things are still very much under investigation. However, this is troubling."
Mikulis, whose son is a freshman at the school, met Beier on a number of occasions while volunteering on senior activities for her other son last year.
"He was involved with a lot of activities in 2006," Mikulis said, in reference to Beier. "He was well-liked and respected by the students. I am [in shock]."
Margaret Bowers, parent of a River Hill junior who played on an indoor soccer team and pingpong team that Beier coached, said she hopes "everything works out for him and his family."
"He was a mentor for my child," added Bowers, who said she interacted with Beier on many occasions.
While Beier, who has been at River Hill since 1996, and Ellis are both on administrative leave, the school system will conduct parallel investigations to the ones under way by prosecutors, according to Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the school system.
Because both teachers are on administrative leave, each is prohibited from returning to the school or having contact with any of the accusers involved until the investigation is completed, Caplan said.
Howard County school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said, "We want to remove them from the environment from which the allegations were made."
Cousin confirmed Friday that he met with Ellis on Thursday to discuss the allegations against him. Cousin said he planned to meet with Beier this week.
Cousin said he was prevented from discussing any further details involving either teacher because both are personnel issues.
Cousin, who has been an educator since 1967 and has led Howard County since 2004, said he could not recall a similar set of circumstances.
"I've never had one exactly like this," he said. "I've been around a long time."