A Montgomery County principal said she did not notify parents for several weeks about an alleged sexual offense in her middle school because she was more focused on the alleged victim’s well-being than on the possibility that other children might have been harmed.
Khadija Barkley, principal at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, Md., apologized to families at a school meeting this week for not alerting them sooner that a substitute teacher allegedly touched a 12-year-old student inappropriately Sept. 30.
The teacher, Jose Pineda, 50, was arrested Oct. 14 on charges of sexual abuse of a minor and third-degree sexual offense. The principal notified parents of the arrest during the first week of November.
“I realize that my decision not to send a letter to the community prior to Nov. 7 was a mistake,” Barkley said. “And for that, I apologize.” She said she wants parents to “unequivocally understand that I was never attempting to cover up this incident.”
Barkley said she was “laser-like focused on this one victim” and did not focus on whether other students might have been affected until she reflected on a case unfolding around the same time at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus.
Baker’s principal, Louise Worthington, came under fire in early November for failing to notify parents that a contract worker was arrested for allegedly inappropriately touching a 12-year-old girl in a school hallway. Many parents learned of the case through media reports, and a letter from the school followed almost a month after the incident.
Montgomery police have said that amid public attention to the Baker case, a second student came forward with similar allegations, which are under investigation.
“When the situation came out at Baker and they realized there was a possibility of other victims at other schools . . . that’s what made me think, okay, so there may be other victims at Roberto Clemente Middle School,” said Barkley, the Clemente principal.
No additional alleged victims have been identified at Clemente, she said.
But after Clemente notified its parents, some students at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg and Gaithersburg Elementary School reported interactions with Pineda that they thought were inappropriate or made them feel uncomfortable, according to school officials.
Police said last week that a total of five to 10 students have come forward after recent school communications about the Pineda arrest. Police are continuing their investigation and did not release details of students’ accounts.
Letters have now gone home to parents at 20 schools where Pineda worked since the beginning of last school year.
Pineda’s attorney declined to comment Wednesday.
In detailing what happened, Barkley said that the school contacted police and central-office administrators right away and that the teacher was removed from the classroom.
Barkley said the student was sent back to class at some point after the incident, something she considered a misstep and that was of concern to the girl’s family.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Terrance Ragland, a Clemente parent, asked why Barkley thought at first that only one child had been affected. Clemente has 1,265 students.
“Initially, I did not think that this substitute teacher had inappropriately touched many children,” Barkley said. “I did not think that at all. My main focus was this one victim and making sure this one victim was taken care of and how a community letter would affect the well-being of this particular child.”
Another parent asked whether the community never would have been informed had the Baker case not surfaced publicly.
“That is a possibility,” Barkley said.
“That is a little scary to me,” the parent responded.
Parent Walt Devore told the principal that it is always better to hear of such incidents from the school or the school system.
“I agree with you, and thus my apology,” Barkley said. Looking back, she said, when the teacher was arrested, “that is specifically the time when I should have notified parents.”