After enjoying three relatively scandal-free years, the Howard County school system seemed to be hit by one embarrassing incident after another this past school year.
In highly publicized arrests, three teachers were charged in separate incidents with having improper sexual contact with students, and a veteran teacher was charged with possession of crack cocaine on school property. Days before the end of classes, a 15-year-old was charged with bringing a semiautomatic handgun and an ammunition clip to his high school.
Top school officials agree that the school year has been less than ideal, but they stress that Howard County remains one of the best school systems around.
"I know that we have the best professional teaching staff, and that we have support staff to augment the great teachers that we have," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "The school system has its issues and its problems. But I think we deal with them in an aggressive manner. It is through our diligence that these things have come to the surface. It's better that they come to the surface than to be hidden."
The troubles surfaced in November, when game officials called the Centennial-Oakland Mills high school football game in the third quarter rather than risk a brawl among fans and players.
The game occurred shortly after the school system adopted a new civility policy intended to discourage bad behavior - including unsportsmanlike conduct - among students, staff members and parents during and after school.
On Jan. 8, Joseph Samuel Ellis, 25, a history teacher at Glenelg High School, was arrested and charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with several students last year.
He is accused of exposing himself to a student in a classroom, sending suggestive computer messages to another and persuading a third to meet him at a park with the promise of alcohol.
Ellis was indicted on charges of sexual abuse of a minor, two counts of fourth-degree sex offense, indecent exposure, display of obscene material to a minor and telephone misuse.
He was terminated by the school board in April.
On Jan. 12, Alan Meade Beier, 52, a chemistry and physics teacher at River Hill High School, was arrested. He was accused of undressing and photographing a 16-year-old boy in his classroom in January. Police also charged Beier with fondling a 17-year-old female student on two occasions, most recently in the fall. A third student also reported inappropriate contact with Beier.
He was charged with four counts of sexual abuse of minors, three counts of fourth-degree sex offense and four counts of second-degree assault.
Beier has appealed a recommendation by Cousin to terminate his employment.
On Jan. 25, Robert Brazell, 18, who had recently dropped out of Mount Hebron High School, died several days after being beaten with an aluminum baseball bat during a late-night melee involving dozens of youths on a field at the school.
Kevin Klink, 18, a 2006 graduate of Oakland Mills High, was charged with the murder in Brazell's death.
Although neither Klink nor Brazell was enrolled in Howard County schools, several teenagers at the fight - including two taken to the hospital with injuries - were enrolled in county high schools.
On Feb. 15, Kirsten Ann Kinley, 27, a special-education teacher at Marriotts Ridge High, was arrested and charged with having sexual contact with a 15-year-old student in late 2004 and early 2005 while she was teaching at Hammond Middle School.
In May, a second student made similar allegations against Kinley. A grand jury indicted Kinley on three counts of third-degree sex offense involving that boy, who was 14 at the time of the alleged incidents in late 2004. Neither youth was one of her students.
Kinley was removed from paid administrative leave in early March. She was terminated by the school board last month.
On May 16, Alan Silberman, 62, a guidance counselor at Howard High, was arrested and charged with having crack cocaine in his vehicle on the school parking lot.
Silberman, who has worked in county schools for 35 years, was charged with possession and has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Most recently, a county police officer arrested a 15-year-old freshman June 15 and charged him with carrying a semiautomatic handgun in his waistband at Hammond High School.
The student was arrested after two students reported to a teacher that they overheard him talking about having a gun.
The teacher relayed the students' suspicions to the school's resource officer. The police officer removed the student from class and, during a search, found an unloaded gun in his waistband and an ammunition clip with nine or 10 rounds in his pants pocket, according to police.
Police have not said why the student brought the gun to school.
A Howard County juvenile court judge committed the teenager to the Alfred D. Noyes Children's Center, a regional detention facility in Rockville.
"We certainly have had some very challenging events," said Diane Mikulis, chairman of the school board.
"I think that part of that shows that people are willing to step forward when they see something wrong," Mikulis said. "That is a good thing. I also think that we have learned to deal with challenging events with the teachers, students, staff."
The county's students are safe in the schools, Mikulis said.
"They are safer in schools than they would be in many other places - playgrounds, shopping centers," she said.
Mikulis said she believes that the county has some of the best teachers in the state.
"When a teacher comes to Howard County, I don't think they are just looking at salary," she said. "They see how our students perform. We have a lot of support in place for our teachers in terms of development, mentoring. ... I think we have great teachers. "
Cousin became superintendent in 2004 after a turbulent school year that included: grade-changing scandals at Oakland Mills and Centennial high schools; the forced departure of Superintendent John R. O'Rourke; and a false rape allegation at Mount Hebron High.
"It was nice for a couple of years," Mikulis said about the period that followed the unrest in 2004. "Unfortunately, bad things happen. ... We sure hope it doesn't happen again."
The following is a list of trial dates for five cases with connections to the Howard County school system.
Alan Meade Beier: The 52-year-old chemistry and physics teacher at River Hill High School was charged with undressing and photographing a 16-year-old boy; fondling a 17-year-old female student on two occasions; and having inappropriate contact with a third student. Trial date, July 23.
Joseph Samuel Ellis: The 25-year-old history teacher at Glenelg High School was charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with several students. Motions hearing, July 18. Trial date, Aug. 20.
Kirsten Ann Kinley: The 27-year-old special-education teacher at Marriotts Ridge High School was charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with a 14-year-old student and a 15-year-old student. Neither boy attended Hammond Middle School, where Kinley taught during the time of the alleged contacts. Trial date, July 26.
Kevin Klink: The 18-year-old 2006 graduate of Oakland Mills High School was charged with murder in the death of Robert Brazell, 18, after a melee at a Mount Hebron High School field. Brazell dropped out of Mount Hebron in 2006. Motions hearing, Sept. 12. Trial date, Oct. 9.
Alan Silberman: The 62-year-old Howard High School guidance counselor was charged with having crack cocaine in his vehicle on the school parking lot. Trial date, July 17.
[ JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV]