A recent series of sex assault cases by public school employees against students revealed possible safety vulnerabilities for children, according to a News4 I-Team investigation.
In each of the cases, the adult charged is an unlicensed school employee, not formally licensed by the state department of education, but still able to have private, one-on-one access to children inside buildings.
The cases include the arrest of Carlos Bell, a former instructional assistant and track coach accused of sexually assaulting at least 24 boys at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School in Charles County, Maryland. Bell, 30, of Waldorf, is also accused of purposely trying to transmit HIV, giving marijuana to minors and 12 counts of child sex abuse. Bell faces 119 counts for crimes he is accused of committing over the course of more than two years, from May 2015 to June 2017. Bell did not hold a Maryland teaching license, nor did his job require it.
Almost a year earlier, Deonte Carraway, a former Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School aide, was charged with sexually exploiting his students to produce child pornography. Carraway pleaded guilty to federal charges. Carraway did not hold a Maryland teaching license, nor did his job require it.
In Montgomery County in May, two public school security staffers were arrested for sexual misconduct with students. Both men pleaded not guilty. Neither held a state education license, nor was either required to do so, under state law.
One of the two security staffers, Mark Yantsos, formerly a lead security staffer at a high school in Rockville, was arrested a second time this spring after allegedly violating a court order to stay away from the victim in his case. Court records said Yantsos is accused of having sex with the same 17-year-old student after his initial arrest.
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“Those unlicensed people we have intimately working with our kids are often in positions where it's easier to groom and sexually abuse children than a licensed teacher,” said Jennifer Alvaro, a child safety advocate and counselor who treats sex offenders.
“Those people are more often alone one-on-one," Alvaro said. "They’re more often able to have intimate relationships with kids."
In a high profile case in 2012, a media technician was arrested for misconduct with students at Northwood High School in Silver Spring. Aaron LaMere pleaded guilty to indecent exposure in the case and left the job. An I-Team review showed LaMere did not hold a Maryland teaching license, nor did his job require it.
The mother of a victim in LaMere’s case said LaMere was able to groom her teenager because LaMere helped run the school’s theater program. She said that afforded LaMere access to students during evenings and weekend hours. “There was physical abuse," she said. "It happened in the theater, behind the stage, in a room you can take the child into, and lock and shut the door.”
LaMere declined to answer questions from the I-Team.
Alvaro said requiring school professionals to be licensed by the state better inhibits misconduct. The revocation of a license can cripple future employment for educators. All 50 states and the District of Columbia participate in a shared database, listing educators from whom education licenses have been revoked. The database flags future employers who might try to hire an educator from whom a license has been revoked.
“If they’re not licensed, (educators) leave the school and no one’s the wiser," Alvaro said. "No formal red flag. And that’s incredibly dangerous.”
All major local school districts said they run background checks on all prospective employees. Those checks help prevent the hiring of educators who have prior cases of misconduct.
In a statement, Montgomery County Public Schools said, “A significant number of our more than 23,000 employees maintain a licensure that ensures they possess the knowledge and skills to perform their job. However, licensure is just one of many tactics we utilize to make certain all staff meet the high standards necessary to serve our students.”
The statement said, “MCPS will continue to review all available tactics and strategies to ensure the safety of all students in our school buildings and facilities.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.