WASHINGTON — The recent case of a former Charles County teacher’s aide accused of molesting middle school boys has raised questions about screening by the school system.
But 30-year-old Carlos D. Bell of Waldorf had passed the school system’s screening, said Charles County school superintendent Kim Hill.
In Maryland, applicants for school employment have to submit to criminal background checks.
Mo Canady, executive director for the National Association of School Resource Officers, called the allegations in the case against Bell “stunning” and “sickening,” but said the case shows that background checks are no guarantee against cases of abuse by school staff.
“There is very little that is foolproof,” Canady said. “When we’re talking about pedophiles, they will do anything they can to be close to children and to have the opportunity to be in private settings with children.”
Current screening procedures do work, said Scott Pfeifer, the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals’ executive director. “We do rely on our central office staffs to do screening and, actually, they do a great job,” he said, adding that “we hire thousands of people” each school year across the state.
The issue of safety and of professional behavior by teachers is something that comes up each new school year, Pfeifer said.
“At the beginning of the school year in every school in Maryland, there is training and conversations among staff and principals about what needs to happen to make sure that we are vigilant about these sorts of things,” he said, referring to the possibility of abuse.
Adults and children need to be trained in behaviors that suggest a staff member might be grooming a child for abuse, said NASRO’s Canady. “Any situation where an adult is going to extra efforts to get themselves alone with students,” he said, is a red flag.
NASRO members, Canady said, are coached on appropriate versus inappropriate contact with students.
For instance, resource officers are told never to hug a child. If an officer or adult wants to offer support with physical contact, a pat on the shoulder is OK.
“But do that in public if you are going to do that,” he added.
School staff members, especially teachers, know that they are obligated to report any signs of abuse, Pfeifer said. “Teachers really take seriously the fact that they can lose their license if they don’t report somebody that they suspect,” he said.
“Our teachers and our principals are vigilant about protecting kids.”