Montgomery teacher Lawrence Joynes charged with sexual abuse of 15 students

A Montgomery County music teacher has been charged with sexually abusing 14 of his elementary school students during the past eight years and with repeatedly having sex with a seventh-grader in the 1990s, according to court documents released Tuesday.

Lawrence W. Joynes, 54, had been a teacher in Montgomery County schools since 1985, and he allegedly abused children in his care as early as 1991 and then from 2005 until shortly before he was arrested in February on a pornography charge, according to court documents. Police wrote in court filings that a principal and later a teacher had been made aware of Joynes’s inappropriate actions with girls in his classroom at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring and that as a result, his access to students was restricted.

(Montgomery County Police) - Lawrence Joynes.

But for at least one victim, the abuse continued, according to the documents.

Court filings detail what appears to be one of the most alarming recent cases of child abuse in the region involving a teacher. Police wrote that much of the abuse happened in Joynes’s music classroom during school hours and involved young girls, whom he put in sexual poses and videotaped. The alleged abuse in the 1990s involved a lengthy sexual relationship with a girl under the age of 15, whom he had sex with in his classroom at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring.

School officials said they could not discuss specifics of the case because it is a personnel matter, but schools spokesman Dana Tofig said officials were “taking the matter very seriously.”

“We have conducted an internal investigation into this matter, not only about the specifics of the allegations against Mr. Joynes, but looking into how these allegations were handled by our staff,” Tofig said in an e-mail. He said the school system is developing a new protocol for monitoring and investigating allegations of inappropriate behavior as a result of this and other cases of alleged abuse.

James Dills, an attorney for Joynes in a previously filed child pornography case in Baltimore County, declined to comment Tuesday night. He said he did not know if Joynes had an attorney for the new cases in Montgomery.

Joynes was first arrested in February, when local and federal agents were investigating a child pornography ring that led them to his home in Dundalk, Md. Investigators later found videos and photographs that appeared to be of New Hampshire Estates students.

The case created a furor among parents and teachers in Montgomery, who worried that the abuse could have gone beyond the photographs. The details that surfaced Tuesday again shocked them, ramping up fears and frustrations.

“It just infuriates me,” said teacher Mary Silverman, who until last June worked with Joynes at New Hampshire Estates and said she twice reported him to administrators, including for locking his classroom doors when he had three first-grade girls inside for lunch. “It infuriates me that the administrators didn’t take it seriously enough.”

Silverman said she did not see acts of abuse but could not help thinking that she could have done more.

“I feel I didn’t do enough,” she said. “I’ve talked to other teachers, and we all feel the same way: We just feel like we didn’t do enough.”

Joynes, who had 27 years of experience in Montgomery, allegedly befriended girls at New Hampshire Estates, creating a group at the elementary school called the “lunch bunch.” He earned their trust, giving them nicknames, candy and videotaping them. He allegedly fondled students, bounced them on his lap, and made videos of them in sexually suggestive poses that he turned into sexual videos.

In the 1990s case, Joynes allegedly carried on a two-year sexual relationship with a student. He has been charged with second-degree rape, child abuse and sex offenses for that relationship, which police said lasted from 1991 to 1993.

In that case, according to police, Joynes gained the child’s trust, communicated with her in coded language and increased his sexual contact with her over time, building from kisses and fondling to sex acts in his car and ultimately intercourse. According to court documents, he had sex with her weekly — including behind a stage in a music room.

“Always remember that I love you,” Joynes wrote in their special code in her 1992-93 Eastern Middle School yearbook, according to court documents. The victim is not identified in the filings. “You are my reason for going on. We’ll be in touch over the summer. Be mine always. Your Pookins Bear.”

Police said that victim came forward after seeing photographs of Joynes on the news after his pornography arrest. Police contacted the 14 other alleged victims after finding their photographs and videos in Joynes’s belongings.

Regarding one student from 2005 to 2008 — “Victim 2” in the documents — Joynes wrote on his computer that he got the child to show her tongue while they practiced drumming. By the end of first grade, the child was repeating suggestive words, and during second grade, Joynes molested her, according to police documents. Joynes would later write on his computer that she was “my most obedient.”

Another victim, a student of Joynes from 2005 to 2009, told police that Joynes would put his finger in her mouth and gave her candy canes, which police wrote allowed Joynes to visualize the girls performing sex acts. “Victim 6,” now 12 years old, became emotional and cried during her police interview, according to the documents.

Joynes, being held in the Baltimore County jail in connection with the child pornography charge, is no longer employed by the school system. He had taught at 11 Montgomery public schools, including Eastern Middle, Francis Scott Key Middle and Cannon Road Elementary. In some instances, he split his time between schools.

Police are continuing to investigate and have asked those who believe they were victimized to contact them.

School Superintendent Joshua P. Starr sent a confidential letter to the county Board of Education in June outlining plans to “improve the process for tracking and managing information regarding allegations of inappropriate interactions” between school employees and students.

Information about such allegations will be recorded in a confidential database, the memo said, and if similar conduct is reported, administrators will be alerted.

Parents were emotional during two meetings at New Hampshire Estates after Joynes’s arrest in February, with several parents and teachers asking why concerns raised about Joynes had not been taken more seriously.

Brenda Bonazelli, a parent, said she believes that the process for reporting such misconduct is a problem.

“My confidence in the county’s ability to detect this early is low,” Bonazelli said.

Teacher Ellen Holder, who worked with Joynes for nearly 10 years, said she reported Joynes to the principal of New Hampshire Estates last year for a tickling incident and at other times for locking his classroom door with students inside. Holder said her heart sank Tuesday.

“I cried when I saw it,” she said. “This is what I was afraid was the truth, and I’m really upset.”