Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Former Ellington Teachers Say School Could Have Done More About Abuse Allegations

NBC Universal, Inc.

Former teachers from one of D.C.'s most prestigious high schools are speaking out about allegations of abuse uncovered by the News4 I-Team.

They say administrators at Duke Ellington School of the Arts knew more than they first indicated about Mark Williams, a teacher accused of abusing two students a decade apart.

Kenneth Carroll and Michele Baskin taught at the school at different times, but both said they watched intently last month as two young women shared accusations of abuse by Williams, their writing teacher, when they were his students in 2004 and 2013.

Both teachers told the I-Team they had conversations with their respective principals about the allegations at the time they were reported. Both knew who the alleged victims were, and both teachers said the school should have done more to protect them.

"You can't help but beat yourself up that you missed something," said Baskin, who left the school last year after 11 years teaching chemistry who chaired the Science Department.

Baskin taught the 2013 student, whose case wasn't reported until 2018. That young woman was unaware of the 2004 allegation until the I-Team contacted her last fall.

"I felt immediately both horrified and saddened," said Carroll after watching the initial news stories. "The struggle is for me, what more could I have done?"

But Carroll said he tried to do a lot, back in the spring of 2005, when Williams returned from his first administrative leave.

The school principal had reported Williams for investigation by police and the school district after allegations surfaced that he was having a sexual relationship with a current student in the fall of 2004. When Williams returned to the school, Carroll said he was incensed. 

"I was amazed. I talked to my colleagues and said, 'How is this possible?'" Carroll recalls.

Carroll worked in the Literary Media Department with Williams and told the I-Team he went to the school's principal in 2005 after his students told him they'd seen evidence of the sexual relationship –explicit emails between the student and Williams.

The former principal told the I-Team she doesn't recall that, but if so, she'd have shared that with the school district's investigators. She said it was the district’s decision to let Williams return to the school. In a message to the young woman years later, she wrote, "The investigation resulted in an inconclusive decision."

"It would have been very simple to pull that email and to find the evidence," said Carroll.

Carroll said he also approached Williams directly to ask about the alleged sexual relationship with that student.

"He never said, 'I didn't do it.' He never objected to what I was saying. And he never said this was all a misunderstanding," Carroll said. "He agreed with me that he owed the students an apology."

Carroll said he arranged a meeting of the Literary Media students at the time, and Williams apologized to them, with no specific details.

Then, weeks later, in a conversation with the woman who assumed Williams' role as department head, Carroll says he was asked to resign. He says he left that semester.

"There was the decision made that I needed to go because I wouldn't keep quiet," he said. "I was going to be a problem as long as he was there."

Williams resigned from the school in the spring of 2019 while under investigation the second time.

"There were always rumors and whispers from students and staff about his behavior in general," said Baskin.

She told the I-Team when she saw a 2018 email calling him "a rapist and a predator" sent by a former student, whose ex-girlfriend from high school had confided in him, she knew immediately who the young woman was.

"My heart sank, and I was angry," said Baskin.

She told the I-Team she had heard rumors about Williams and the 2004 student for years. It had been described as a consensual relationship, even though a student cannot legally consent to sex with their teacher. Baskin said when the newer allegation surfaced in 2018, she had colleagues who recalled the earlier allegation.

"There were administrators in 2004 who were still administrators in 2018," she said.

The school reported the later allegation to police and the school district for investigation, as it had done with the earlier one. But the I-Team obtained the 2018 police report listing the young woman as an "unknown female." She told the I-Team no one ever contacted her to ask about Williams.

"It's heartbreaking that nobody talked to her, and it's heartbreaking that that opportunity wasn't taken to find other victims if they did exist," Baskin said.

A school spokesperson told the I-Team police had directed administrators not to question students or teachers, but Baskin said they didn't have to.

"I told the principal, I know who the student is," said Baskin, adding that she has no doubt she used the student's name in those conversations.

"What I don't know is was her name passed on to [police] and they just waited to have her come to them? Or was the name never passed on?"

A school spokesperson told the I-Team the school's current principal does recall sharing that student's name with police in 2018.

Williams has never been charged and did not respond to the I-Team's repeated calls and emails seeking comment about the allegations.

The I-Team found, despite 18 years teaching at the public school, Williams never held a D.C. teaching license. That's not required of Duke Ellington's teachers because of a special arrangement the arts school has with D.C. Public Schools.

A school district spokesperson told the I-Team Williams was only considered a Duke Ellington employee, not a DCPS employee. The district maintained no personnel file for him, which may explain why it told the I-Team it had no records of ever investigating him.

"I yelled at the computer screen when I saw that. I did not know how that could possibly be the case," said Baskin.

Both teachers told the I-Team they believe change is long overdue at the school. A D.C. councilwoman has now called for better recordkeeping for abuse allegations and oversight for teachers, no matter who hired them.

"I just don't think we did a good enough job to protect these young people," said Carroll. "We owe them an apology – all the adults who let Mark return to that building and the system that let Mark return to that building."

The former principal and the acting department head who replaced Williams in 2005 both told the I-Team they don’t recall the details surrounding Carroll's departure or whether it was related to his persistence regarding the Williams investigation.

The school has said its personnel records were poorly maintained prior to 2017 and that has improved in recent years. The school has also increased its training for faculty and staff on how to spot and report abuse. 

The police department has vowed to reexamine both of these cases and assigned a new detective to investigate. He has now interviewed both of the young women as well as additional former students and staff regarding their encounters with Williams.

Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones.

Contact Us