School system took the right steps
There is no mincing words — this is a terrible, horrific story to report about.
Last month, Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony Covington (D) announced a slew of child sexual abuse, child pornography and assault charges against a former teaching assistant at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School. Carlos Bell, 30, of Waldorf has been accused of abusing at least 24 children in the county, some of the victims were students under his supervision at Stoddert. The charges stem from an investigation of Bell allegedly sending an inappropriate text message last December to a student at La Plata High School, where Bell was coaching the track team. Police took Bell’s cell phone and computer equipment as part of the investigation and sent them to the Maryland State Police Crime Lab for examination. Bell was reassigned to the school’s central office but was then terminated in January for failing to show up for work. At the time, the school system sent a notice about the incident to La Plata parents. It wasn’t until files and photos of alleged victims were found on his devices months later by crime lab technicians that Stoddert parents were made aware of the investigation and that he may have abused Stoddert students. Bell admitted to investigators that he is HIV positive.
Covington updated the public on July 31 as to the status of the investigation and the numerous additional charges that were leveled against Bell, and implored the public to assist the investigators in identifying some of the victims. That same day, Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill announced that Stoddert’s principal was reassigned and that an interim principal was put in place.
By all accounts, it looks as though the school system took all of the right steps in reporting and assisting with the investigation. That isn’t to mean that there wasn’t a stumble along the way.
In response to the investigation, the school system decided to hold parent information nights at Stoddert in an effort to reach out to concerned adults. It was a good idea. However, the execution left a lot to be desired, and it was immediately obvious. When parents arrived at the first information night July 28, they were told the format would be breakout sessions where parents would be asked to tell school employees how they felt about the situation. The principal read from a prepared statement about how the meeting would unfold. The superintendent and most members of the board of education were not in attendance. Some parents were so livid that they got up and left, having come to the meeting to get answers, not to be asked how they felt about the situation.
The school system realized it made a mistake. Last week, Hill and five of the seven elected members of the board of education attended the next parent information night and took full responsibility for the misstep and addressed criticism from those in attendance. Hill pledged to improve how the school system handles reaching out to parents and outlined ways the school system can look to prevent incidents of this nature in the future.
We commend the superintendent for taking the blame for the initial mistake, but we also believe, from our reporting, that the superintendent and the school system has done all they could to assist police and the state’s attorney’s office in conducting their investigation and took the proper steps in removing the suspect from being around children as soon as the initial allegations were reported. We hope that as this investigation continues, the school system will do all it can to help heal the wounds the family, faculty and staff at Stoddert incurred. The school year is about to begin and it certainly isn’t going to feel like business as usual at Stoddert for quite some time. Our hearts go out to all of those affected by this, particularly the children.