Montgomery leaders to examine changes after abuse allegations

School leaders in Montgomery County said Wednesday that they are looking into what more could have been done to prevent the alleged sexual abuse of 14 young girls by their music teacher at a Silver Spring elementary school.

A week after police charges against Lawrence W. Joynes became public — charges that described years of abuse while Joynes was with the Montgomery school system — Board of Education President Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring) said school leaders are working to ensure that change is made where needed.

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“Whenever an incident like this occurs, we always ask ourselves: ‘Is there more we could have done to prevent this?’ ” Barclay said. “I know this is something that our staff is looking into and that appropriate action will be taken and changes will be made.”

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr said he is already working to add more training for principals and improve the way cases are tracked and reviewed.

Joynes, 54, a teacher in Montgomery schools since 1985, is accused of sexually abusing girls in kindergarten through second grade at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School during the past eight school years. He is also accused of second-degree rape in connection with the alleged abuse of a middle-schooler in the early 1990s.

The veteran teacher was first arrested in late February at his home in Baltimore County on child pornography charges. Police then found video recordings and other material allegedly showing a range of abusive acts with young girls in his classroom.

Three educators and two parents have told The Washington Post that they reported Joynes to school leaders for incidents they considered inappropriate. They did not say they saw the video recordings or alleged criminal acts.

According to court documents, school leaders placed restrictions on Joynes in November 2011 after two complaints. Joynes was told not to touch children, be alone with them, sit in the cafeteria during lunch or stay on the playground during recess. His classroom door was to remain open, and he was to use staff restrooms, not those for students, documents say.

At least one case described in the court filings involves alleged abuse of a child after those school restrictions began.

At Wednesday’s school board meeting, several elected leaders weighed in on the need for vigilance and quick action.

“To our staff, our parents, and our students: If you have concerns about the conduct of one of our employees, please report it,” Barclay said. “Do not wait. Let a principal or an administrator know. And to our principals and administrators: If someone raises concerns about the conduct of our employees, please look into it as quickly as possible. Do not wait. ”

Board of Education member Michael A. Durso (Eastern County), a retired school principal, said his rule of thumb on the job was, “If something doesn’t seem right, it probably is not.”

“We also don’t want to be alarmists, but we don’t want to be at the point where situations are not dealt with appropriately and promptly,” Durso said.

Board Vice President Phil Kauffman (At Large) said he was hopeful about making changes. “We’re confident we will fix what needs to be fixed,” he said.

The board discussion Wednesday came six days after Starr promised administrators and supervisors that he would provide additional training to school leaders on how to handle suspected abuse and said new procedures were being designed “to track these cases centrally,” according to a recording of Starr’s Aug. 15 remarks.

The improvements, he said, would help educators do a better job of investigating allegations. Still, Starr said, “in the end, we as leaders in the district must accept responsibility for relentlessly and unapologetically protecting children at all times.”

He added that all allegations require attention.

“I want to be really clear and direct about something: If a parent, a staff member or a student ever raises a concern about the conduct of one of our employees, we must take swift and appropriate steps to investigate as quickly as possible,” he said, according to the recording, which school system officials provided to The Post.

Starr urged staff members to contact key school district leaders if there is any doubt about what to do in a case of suspected abuse, “because it’s always a gut call, right?” He added: “Don’t wait, and don’t delay.”

Lynh Bui contributed to this report.

 
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