‘Trust broken’ as Rock Terrace School investigation continues

WASHINGTON – “My trust is broken.”

That’s how a nearly tearful mother of a disabled student at the Rock Terrace School described her feelings after learning the school was being investigated for financial irregularities connected to students’ finances.

That parent was among many who told Montgomery County School officials they were concerned that the Rockville, Md., school their children love and depend on had serious fiscal issues. The word “trust” came up again and again.

Alarice Vidale de Palacios said her son loves Rock Terrace, and she will keep him in the school, but says “there’s been a huge breach of trust.”

And while Vidale de Palacios says she will keep an open mind on the investigations into the school’s finances, she had a notice for officials: “Be very clear and be very honest. Because if there’s even one hiccup, these enraged parents…will be back, and it’s gonna be very different.”

While overhead lights buzzed audibly in the school’s auditorium, Chief Operating Officer for Montgomery County Schools Larry Bowers told the audience they are in the process of investigating the school. Bowers says, so far, no criminal conduct has been found and that more than 100 students’ finances may have been affected over a period of seven years.

Pressed by one parent, Bowers apologized for the situation. The school’s own probe showed funds that were going into student bank accounts had been taken out and then used for program purposes.

“We don’t believe that was an appropriate use of funds, we don’t believe, in fact, that should have been done,” Bowers said. He added that the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office is also investigating.

Principal Dianne Thornton retired after being placed on administrative leave while the school system investigated. Kathy Lertora, currently an administrator with the Stephen Knowles School, another MCPS school for disabled children, has been named acting principal while the school searches for a replacement for Thornton.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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