Howard Co. high school teacher accused of possession, distribution of child pornography

The school system in Howard County, Maryland, told the school community that it has received “disturbing news” regarding the arrest of a high school teacher on child pornography charges.

The Atholton High School teacher was taken into custody in a neighboring jurisdiction and is accused of possessing and distributing child pornography, said schools Superintendent Michael Martirano in a letter, adding that he learned the news Wednesday. The letter did not identify the teacher or reveal when the teacher was taken into custody.

However, a letter sent to Atholton High School families identified the teacher as Lawrence Costella, a special education teacher in his second year at the school.

Police in Baltimore County said that Costella, 32, has been arrested on a charge of distributing and possessing child pornography, and he is being held without bail at the Baltimore County jail. They confirmed that he was a teacher in Howard County and they do not suspect that he had any inappropriate contact with minors.

Acknowledging the concerns of student, staff and families, Martirano said that while the legal process must be allowed to unfold, he, too, was “extremely disturbed as a result of learning of these charges.”

Costella has been placed on administrative leave and is not allowed on school property, pending the outcome of the investigation and criminal charges.

Martirano said that Costella, like every Howard County schools employee, underwent a criminal background check, fingerprinting and a detailed reference check when hired by the school.

“Our parents entrust us to keep our children safe, and that responsibility is our top priority,” Martirano said.

He asked parents to encourage their children to talk to a trusted adult if anyone behaves or speaks to them in a way that causes them to feel uncomfortable.

It’s not the first time a Howard County teacher has faced allegations of child pornography. In 2014, a Howard County middle school substitute teacher was arrested on charges of child pornography. Jeremy Sykes was convicted in 2015, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Also in 2014, another Howard County schools employee was charged with sex offenses with a teenager he met on the internet, the Ellicott City Patch reported. Christopher Fox would later be found guilty in 2015, according to The Baltimore Sun. And in 2021, he pleaded guilty to distribution of child pornography, a U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Maryland news release said.

Last month, a counselor in Virginia’s largest school system was fired after it was discovered that he was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor outside of Fairfax County. Darren Thornton kept his job for more than a year and a half after his arrest, and is accused of providing false information to the state’s sex offender registry.

Thornton’s arrest prompted an investigation on what happened that allowed him to stay on the job, and a call for more regular background checks.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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