School Board Member Resigns

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Attorneys for a Prince George's County school board member announced his resignation yesterday, in the wake of separate allegations by the board and a county grand jury that he had engaged in misconduct with teenagers.

Nathaniel B. Thomas, 26, resigned the day after the grand jury indicted him in connection with an alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy he had once taught. Earlier, the Board of Education had accused Thomas (At Large) of "immorality and misconduct" in relationships with two older high school students. He had been in office since December.

"Our client believes that the mere existence of the allegations lodged against him has to date, and will in the future, be a distraction to him and his colleagues on the board, diverting their attention from the critical work required of governing authority," Thomas's attorneys said in a letter to the school board. "Further, our client does not wish to do anything which serves to undermine or erode the confidence and trust that the citizens of Prince George's County must vest in the local board of education. . . .

"While Mr. Thomas strongly desires to continue his public service, he will not do so at the expense or to the detriment of the institution which he both loves and respects."

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) will appoint a temporary member, with the approval of the County Council.

James Keary, Johnson's spokesman, said there was no timeline for the appointment. Johnson "has no one in mind," Keary said, and he invited interested parties to submit their résumés.

Nearly two months ago, Thomas allegedly took an 18-year-old Forestville Military Academy student to a conference in San Francisco without the student's parents' permission. Schools officials said they discovered the trip when the student's parents reported that their son was missing.

After returning the student to his parents, the school board ordered an independent investigation into the incident.

The investigators' report said that the student was staying in a hotel room with Thomas and that Thomas had a close relationship for several months with the 18-year-old and the school board's student member. The report said the 18-year-old told investigators that Thomas served alcohol and played sexually suggestive games of "truth or dare" with him.

Thomas and the two students, who both graduated from Forestville last week, said there had been no sexual contact in the relationships.

"I really see myself as like their big brother," Thomas told investigators, according to the report. In a telephone interview in April, Thomas said there was nothing inappropriate about his relationship with the 18-year-old.

Thomas's colleagues on the school board voted unanimously to recommend that the Maryland State Board of Education expel him from office. Thomas had asked that the state board consider the matter after he had dealt with the criminal case, but his request was denied.

The resignation was a sudden end to a political career that county leaders thought could end in the county executive's office or the State House.

Thomas, the grandson of a successful local businessman and the son of a school principal, is a graduate of Suitland High School. He had expressed a desire to teach and serve the public from a young age. In last year's school board election, he defeated several more-experienced candidates, including Gloria G. Lawlah, a longtime state senator.

"It's unfortunate that we're in this situation, but I applaud him for doing what he needs to do to allow the educational system to move forward," said the school board chairman, R. Owen Johnson Jr. (District 5). "We're sorry that it has come to this."

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company