A former Montgomery County elementary school teacher who prosecutors say inappropriately touched four 11-year-old girls pleaded guilty Monday to mis­demeanor assault charges — a vague end to a case that had sharply divided parents at a Rockville school.

During a brief explanation of Timothy Krupica’s crimes, prosecutors said only that he had illegally touched the children, who were students at Meadow Hall Elementary School. The prosecutors did not say how Krupica — a popular teacher who had initially been charged with sex offenses — touched the children or what parts of their bodies were touched.

“I don’t know if any of us will know — any of us, no matter which side people are on — what the truth is,” Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Jordan told a courtroom packed with supporters of the teacher and with parents of two of the victims.

Jordan sentenced Krupica, 31, to three years of probation and forbade him from teaching children younger than 16 during that time. The judge also imposed 12 years of “backup” time, which could send Krupica to prison if he violates his probation. Krupica’s attorney said his client isn’t interested in teaching again and may pursue a career in wildlife or forestry management.

Prosecutors described Krupica’s touching of the students as “inappropriate” and “unconsented to.” The charges to which he pleaded guilty — second-degree assault — had no sex-offense components to them. In Maryland, second-degree assault covers a broad range of crimes, from threatening to touching to punching.

Timothy V. Krupica (Courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools)

Krupica said little during the hearing, and his attorney declined to make him available for an interview afterward. Krupica had been placed on administrative leave from the Montgomery school system earlier this year after initial, alarming allegations in February and March. School officials said that he was no longer with the system as of August.

According to police charging documents filed in February and March, Krupica fondled three girls on private areas of their bodies on the outside of their clothing and forced or tried to force all four to fondle him on the outside of his clothing. He was indicted on four counts of sex abuse and seven counts of sex offense — charges that could have sent him to prison for more than a decade.

But Krupica’s supporters — including family, friends, parents of students and teachers — stood by him. The personable, enthusiastic teacher was known as “Mr. K” by his students and had no criminal record. In court filings, Krupica’s attorney, Jeffrey Harding, indicated he would question the credibility of the victims if the case went to trial, asserting that two of them reported the touching after Krupica told administrators he saw them bullying and harassing another student.

“He has, from day one, adamantly denied that there was any sexual contact with these students,” Harding said after the hearing. “This plea reflects that.”

The trial was scheduled to begin Monday. Prosecutors opted to reduce the charges and recommend probation instead of jail time. They did so, in part, to avoid traumatizing the victims, said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Montgomery County state’s attorney’s office.

From the bench, Jordan noted that Montgomery prosecutors have been aggressive in other sex-offense cases. He said he didn’t know whether Krupica was innocent and took the deal rather than risk prison and having to register as a sex offender, or if prosecutors thought a sex-offense case would be too difficult to prove.

“I don’t know whether the truth is that Mr. Krupica was just facing such horrendous charges and high risk and sex-offender status and sex-offender reporting and decided that he would admit to something he honestly believed he didn’t do,” Jordan said. “I don’t know if the state just felt that it was too heavy of a lift, too high a hurdle to get over, to proceed with the sex-offense charges.”

The tensions in the case were still evident Monday. Mothers of two the victims spoke, describing what their daughters had been through. One of them turned around to tell Krupica’s supporters that casting the victims as liars was further hurting the kids.

“I would respectfully request that we move forward and start being kind to one another,” she said.