Some parents from a suburban Maryland middle school called for the Charles County superintendent to resign during a tense meeting Wednesday night with school system officials after a former staff member was charged with sexually abusing at least 24 children.
About 50 parents attended the meeting at Benjamin Stoddert Middle in Waldorf to question Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill about how her administration handled the allegations against Carlos Deangelo Bell, a former Stoddert instructional assistant.
Bell, 30, who also served as a track coach at La Plata High, was indicted in late July on more than 100 counts of child sex abuse and other offenses. Bell, who is HIV positive, is also charged with attempting to transfer the virus to at least three victims.
On Wednesday, some parents asked about options to transfer their children to a different school, while others said they no longer had faith in administrators. Hill acknowledged that the school system waited six months to inform Stoddert parents about a police investigation involving Bell’s alleged inappropriate contact with a La Plata student. According to court documents, Bell allegedly assaulted some of the boys on Stoddert property.
Hill opened the meeting by stating that she had attended Stoddert as a child and said she felt hurt by what the school is going through. She also apologized to parents for what she described as a poorly planned and executed town hall in July that left families distraught.
In the time since, Hill said, she has reassigned Stoddert’s principal, Kenneth Schroeck, to an administrative role, and brought in Marvin Jones, who had been executive director of schools.
“It is a recognition that this community has been through a very traumatic experience,” Hill said. “The best thing to do is bring in a new leader and get a fresh start.”
Introducing himself to the school community, Jones asked the gathered parents to join him in a cathartic exercise by saying in unison: “This, too, shall pass.”
Hill said that in preparing for the new school year, the administration had hired two more teachers, installed four additional cameras to hallways in the building and arranged for three psychologists to visit the school during the first week of classes to help students cope.
But some Stoddert parents said Hill’s efforts have not been satisfactory and called on her to resign.
Yonelle Lee, whose daughter will be a seventh-grader at Stoddert when classes start in September, said that many students were aware to some degree of Bell’s inappropriate behavior with students, including wrestling with boys on the floor of his classroom or entering the students’ locker room. Lee said that she was also “disgusted” that parents were not notified earlier about the allegations against Bell.
“A lot of people are placing this blame squarely on her shoulders,” Lee said of Hill. Lee said she believes Schroeck is being treated “as a scapegoat.”
Schroeck has not responded to requests for comment.
At the meeting Wednesday, Lee told Hill: “If leadership starts at the top, then you should resign.”
Hill responded by saying that she accepted responsibility for the school’s lack of communication regarding the status of the investigation. But Hill said she had only passed along what the school system knew at the time. Hill also said that she will continue to serve as superintendent for as along as the school board wants her to lead the district.
Inez Early, a vice president of the Stoddert parent-teacher organization, said that she believes Hill is making efforts to remedy mistakes.
“I think she’s doing a great job, so until I see differently, I’m happy that she stood her ground,” Early said.
As the meeting wrapped up, Jones asked that the parents again repeat together what they had chanted before: “This, too, shall pass.”