For­mer school in­struc­tional as­sis­tant in­dicted on 119 ad­di­tional child sex­ual abuse charges

Par­ents up­set as school tries to re­build trust at in­for­ma­tion night

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Anger. Dis­gust. Rage. Fear. Be­trayal. Th­ese were just a few of the feel­ings shared with school sys­tem of­fi­cials dur­ing a Par­ent In­for­ma­tion Night held Fri­day at Ben­jamin Stod­dert Mid­dle School.

Some par­ents found the night to be long on ques­tions and short on an­swers re­gard­ing Car­los Dean­gelo Bell, 30, of Wal­dorf, a for­mer in­struc­tional as­sis­tant at the school, who has been ar­rested and charged with abus­ing stu­dents, some on school prop­erty.

Charles County State’s At­tor­ney Anthony Cov­ing­ton (D) an­nounced at a press con­fer­ence Mon­day af­ter­noon 119 ad­di­tional counts have been filed against Bell, rang­ing from pro­duc­tion of child pornog­ra­phy, sex­ual abuse of a mi­nor, trans­mis­sion or at­tempted trans­mis­sion of the HIV virus and many oth­ers. Cov­ing­ton said the num­ber of

sus­pected vic­tims has in­creased to 24, with 11 still uniden­ti­fied.

Fol­low­ing Cov­ing­ton’s an­nounce­ment, the school sys­tem an­nounced that Ben­jamin Stod­dert Prin­ci­pal Ken­neth Schroek has been trans­ferred to the Of­fice of Sup­port­ing Ser­vices due to the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Marvin Jones, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of schools, will serve as in­terim prin­ci­pal.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Kim­berly Hill said the de­ci­sion was made as a re­sult of the ad­di­tional charges an­nounced Mon­day.

“When we make de­ci­sions in re­gards to the lead­er­ship of our schools, we have to do what is in the best in­ter­ests of our chil­dren, and we felt trans­fer­ring Mr. Schroek was in their best in­ter­ests,” Hill said.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Bell be­gan in Novem­ber

2016 af­ter the par­ent of a stu­dent at La Plata High School, where Bell also worked as an in­door track coach, noted in­ap­pro­pri­ate text mes­sages on the stu­dent’s phone, which were de­ter­mined to have come from Bell.

Po­lice submitted Bell’s elec­tronic de­vices to the Mary­land State Po­lice Crime Lab, and Bell was re­as­signed to the cen­tral of­fice pend­ing the out­come of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Bell failed to show up for work and was ter­mi­nated, ac­cord­ing to school of­fi­cials.

In late June, the crime lab re­ported find­ing video on Bell’s elec­tronic de­vices of Bell sex­u­ally abus­ing mid­dle school-aged boys on school prop­erty and other lo­ca­tions.

Bell in­formed in­ves­ti­ga­tors he is HIV-pos­i­tive, and po­lice re­ceived ev­i­dence to sup­port the claim.

Many of the ap­prox­i­mately 100 par­ents and stu­dents who at­tended Fri­day’s in­for­ma­tion ses­sion were sur­prised to

dis­cover the for­mat of the meet­ing was small break-out ses­sions in which at­ten­dees were asked to con­trib­ute in­for­ma­tion about what they’d been feel­ing since the an­nounce­ment of Bell’s ar­rest and how the school could sup­port stu­dents and re­build trust.

Schroek said the in­for­ma­tion would be pro­vided to the Ben­jamin Stod­dert Pos­i­tive School Cli­mate Task­force, which is cur­rently be­ing formed.

“This is very, very im­por­tant to us. We want to hear your thoughts, your feel­ings, your con­cerns and your ideas for how we can move for­ward from the hor­rific events that have oc­curred,” Schroek told at­ten­dees.

Charles County Board

of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Michael Lukas was in at­ten­dance, al­though he did not ad­dress the group as a whole.

One woman, who de­clined to be in­ter­viewed or give her name, stood up and told school of­fi­cials she felt dis­re­spected by the for­mat of the night’s meet­ing.

“I am apoplec­tic that you ex­pect them to sit at this ta­ble and tell you how they feel? Do not make a mock­ery of this. You have in­sulted us, you have in­sulted our chil­dren,” she said, be­fore walk­ing out of the cafe­te­ria.

Wal­dorf res­i­dent Jonathan Lee also left early, say­ing he was dis­ap­pointed more school sys­tem staff didn’t at­tend the in­for­ma­tion night.

“No­body’s giv­ing any an­swers on any of the stuff that hap­pened. But we’re telling you what we think you should do? That’s lu­di­crous. It seems like no­body is ac­count­able,” Lee said in an in­ter­view af­ter­ward.

Lee ques­tioned why par­ents at Ben­jamin Stod­dert weren’t no­ti­fied in De­cem­ber, when let­ters were sent home to La Plata track team mem­bers re­gard­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“This school sys­tem can text me about money, raf­fles, ev­ery­thing, but you can’t tell me when a teacher was mess­ing with a stu­dent? If La Plata knew, we should have known, too,” Lee said. “They didn’t no­tify any­body at the school un­til July 3 of this year? That’s an ac­count­abil­ity thing.”

Schroek said that in hind­sight, he wished Stod­dert par­ents had been no­ti­fied, but that at the time, there was only the al­le­ga­tion of an in­ap­pro­pri­ate text to a La Plata track stu­dent.

At the end, Schroek thanked at­ten­dees for com­ing and help­ing to re­build the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the school and com­mu­nity.

Jonathan Lee’s wife Yonelle Lee ques­tioned whether trust be­tween the school and par­ents could ever be re­built.

A se­cond pub­lic in­for­ma­tion night is sched­uled for Aug. 16. Jones is ex­pected to lead the meet­ing.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Tony Cov­ing­ton, state’s at­tor­ney for Charles County, front, gave a press con­fer­ence Mon­day af­ter­noon to an­nounce 119 charges against Car­los Bell, a for­mer Ben­jamin Stod­dert Mid­dle School in­struc­tional as­sis­tant ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing 24 chil­dren. Cov­ing­ton was flanked by Charles County Sher­iff Troy Berry, left, and Su­per­in­ten­dent Kim­berly Hill, al­though nei­ther spoke dur­ing the an­nounce­ment.

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