A 44-year-old Montgomery County special education teacher has been arrested by county police on felony charges that he molested two 11-year-old male students.

Hunter Pope Mulford, a teacher at Newport Middle School in Kensington, surrendered to county police Thursday evening in the company of his lawyer. He was released on $5,000 bond pending a preliminary District Court hearing March 1.

Mulford yesterday refused to discuss the arrest and referred all calls to Ronald Willis, his attorney. Willis said Mulford "unequivocally denies" the charges. Mulford surrendered to police after Willis had "several conversations in the last couple of days" with them, Willis said.

Mulford, who has taught in county schools for seven years, specialized in teaching students who are considered mentally or emotionally disabled or slow learners.

Police charge that Mulford had sexual contact or sexual relations with one child Jan. 29 on school grounds.According to police the boy returned home and told his parents about the alleged incident and the parents brought charges against Mulford.

Police also charge that Mulford had sex or sexual contact with another student in September during a week-long school retreat at the Lathrop Smith Environmental Center in Rockville. According to school officials, the boy's parents were reluctant to bring charges against Mulford until they learned about the second alleged incident.

Mulford was charged with second-and third-degree sexual assault. He could receive 20 years in jail for the second-degree offense, which implies a "sexual act" against the will or someone who is mentally handicapped. He could get 10 years imprisonment for the third-degree charge, which involves sexual contact only.

Mulford of 7009 Elizabeth Dr., McLean, was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday pending completion of a school investigation. He was the second county teacher in two months to be arrested by police on sex offense charges.

In December John A. Soule, a 29-year-old math teacher at Poolesville High School, was charged with a misdemeanor sexual offense involving a 14-year-old female student. Last week he was fired by School Superintedant Charles M. Bernardo, but the teacher plans to appeal his dismissal to a county hearing examiner.

"They (police) allege that the latest thing happened during school hours," Willis said. "From what he (Mulford tells me both of the boys have some psycological problems."

According to school statistics, 36 of Newport's 713 students are enrolled in self-contained special education classes. Although he is certified as a special education teacher, Mulford actually worked as an alternative instruction specialist in the school's resource room. He primarily taught English composition and writing to about 60 children who are considered slow learners or exhibit varying degrees of learning disability.

This was Mulford's second year at Newport, which is one of four county middle schools. He previously taught special education classes at Kensington Junior High, Farquhar Middle School, and Piney Branch Elementary School.

According to attorney Willis, Mulford taught special education in Virginia private schools for 9 years before joining the Montgomery County school system in 1972.

"He was excellent in English and writing," said Tonisa Parker, a middle school specialist who works for the system's Department of Instructional Planning and Development. "I worked with him last summer during summer school in Northwood. His rapport with kids was very good."

Newport Principal Robert F. Redmond said Mulford came to the school with "excellent credentials."

Newport students and faculty members reacted to the news of Mulford's arrest with shock. "Most of us heard about it first during lunch," said Delores A. Serra, a special education aide. "A lot of kids play radios during the lunch period and some of them came up to me and asked if it was true."

Joseph Howard, director of the Lathrop Smith Environmental Center, said Mulford was one of about six Newport teachers who accompanied the school's sixth graders on their retreat to the wilderness park in mid-September.

"We've got sixth graders here practically every week of the year," he said. "The only thing I can remember about the Newportgroup was that it was the first to come this year. Everything went surprisingly well and there were no complaints."