Montgomery County School Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo yesterday recommended the dismissal of a Poolesville High School teacher who has been accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student.
Bernardo's tersely worded statement recommended that 29-year-old John A. Soule be fired for insubordination and misconduct, but did not elaborate on the charges.
Unless the county school board moves to reverse Bernardo's recommendation, Souel, who is on paid administrative leave, will be fired Feb. 12 After that time he still has the right to appeal his firing to the county and the state school boards.
The controversy began last month when police brought criminal charges against Soule. Police brought the charges at the request of the 14-year-old's parents, who had hired a private detective to follow the teacher.
The 14-year-old girl, however, has hired her own attorney to fight her parents' contention that she had sexual relations with Soule. The teacher is scheduled to go on trial in District Court on Feb. 22 on misdemeanor charges of having sex with someone under 15 years of age.
Bernado, who refused to comment on his decision yesterday, declined to charge Soule with immorality, one of five possible grounds for suspension or dismissal.
According to attorneys close to the case, however, ernardo charged Soule with insubordination because the teacher allegedly violated an order by Poolesville principal William Bowen to "limite contact" with girl.
Bowen's order, according to attorneys, came after some other Poolesville students discovered what students described as a love letter that the 14-year-old had written Soule and circulated the letter widely around the school.
Sometime after Bowen's order in late November, Soule invited the girl over to his Gaithersburg home on two consecutive Sundays without the knowledge of the girl's parents, the attorneys said.
The teacher, who said yesterday he was "burned up" by Bernardo's recommendation, said he interpreted Bowen's directive to mean only those contacts that occurred during school hours. "She (the girl) came over to my house on two consecutive Sundays last month and we watched the Red-skins on TV," Soule said. "That's all."
Soule said he would appeal the recommendation to the school board and, "if need be," appeal to the State Board of Education. Bowen declined to comment on the decision "because I don't want to prejudice his trial."
The girl's father referred all calls to his attorney "because of the fact that I could be sued later on if I say something about this man (the teacher)."
Joseph Montedonico the father's attorney, said Bernardo's decision was "great news.
"Just imagine the hell they're going through," he said, referring to the girl's parents. "Not only do they have to deal with these charges but they also have to contend with the fact that their daughter had gotten a lawyer at public expense to deny the whole thing."
John Duncan, the deputy state's attorney assigned to the criminal case, said Bernardo's decision "will have no effect on my side. Their business doesn't have anything to do with mine."
Poolesville students who have talked to the girl said she has made contradictory statements about the incident. According to several attorneys, she now is attempting to retract a statement she originally made to police.
Montedonico said Soule "was told by the school to his face to stay away from the girl. He did not. The school system's doing the exact right thing."
Soule said he felt "bitter" over the entire incident.
"That misconduct charge simply depends on who's interpreting the bylaws," said Soule, who was described by students as a good teacher. Although this was only his first year at Poolesville, he was credited with having formed astronomy, photograhy and volleyball clubs at the school. "In my eight years teaching I always had kids over to my place. They're my friends and I help them out when they have problems."
Soule said his reputation was at stake and that the superintendant's decision totally hedged on the central question of whether I fooled around with her or not."
"She (the girl) will back me to the ends of the earth as far as the charges go," he said, adding that the two occasions the girl visited his home were the first times he had ever had a female student at his home alone with him.
"It got to a point where I just said to myself, cool it," he said. "I was concerned about some trouble she was having with her family." Soule added he would "never have people over at my house again."
"I'm caught in some kind of tide I just don't understand," he said. "The school system's worried mainly about the publicity. They just want to keep their skirts clean."