A federal civil rights lawsuit filed this month alleges that the Prince George’s County school system failed to conduct a proper background check on a teaching assistant with a previous history of alleged sex abuse who was later convicted of molesting an elementary school student.
The suit, filed in federal court in Greenbelt, comes four months after the school system settled a similar civil rights complaint and as it finds itself amid a wide-reaching child-pornography investigation involving a volunteer teacher’s aide.
The case filed April 5 involves a former Glenn Dale Elementary School teaching aide and an 8-year-old student. Jason Jamar Howard, 33, was charged with sexual abuse of a minor in April 2013 after a teacher witnessed him sit next to the child, place his hand under her skirt and fondle her in the middle of the school day, according to police. Howard later admitted to abusing the girl between 10 to 15 times over the course of two school years, according to court documents.
Howard, who is no longer with the school system, pleaded guilty to sex abuse in Prince George’s County Circuit Court six months later and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The student’s family contends that the Prince George’s County school system should not have hired Howard in 2011 because he had been charged with assault and sex offenses in 2002, according to online court records. The 2002 charges were dropped.
The school system “breached their duty by either failing to conduct a criminal background check on Howard, which would have revealed Howard’s past charges of assault and sexual offense or by conducting a criminal background check and hiring him despite the charges,” the family’s attorney alleged in the legal complaint. The complaint also alleges that the principal at the time failed to immediately disclose the abuse to authorities and the child’s parents.
Officials in Prince George’s would not comment on the pending lawsuit, saying it is the school system’s practice not to comment on legal issues. But in a response to the complaint filed in court, attorneys for the school system denied many of the allegations set out in the lawsuit. Attorneys for Howard and the principal named in the suit did not respond to requests for comment.
The school system is in the middle of reviewing policies and practices in light of the recent arrest of a Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School volunteer charged with child sex abuse. According to police and prosecutors, Deonte Carraway, 22, abused and filmed inappropriate behavior with students during the school day and on school grounds since at least January 2015. Carraway, authorities said, also abused children between the ages of 9 and 13 at a local town center, church and in private homes, and has claimed at least 17 victims.
The case deeply upset parents in the city of Glenarden, with many of them demanding to know how Carraway was given so much time alone with children to allegedly perpetrate such acts and why other adults in the school didn’t notice or report problems sooner. The Carraway case has also prompted at least five civil suits against the school system, including a class-action lawsuit.
School officials have said Carraway, who was hired to be a paid employee in 2014 before budget cuts eliminated his position, passed a background check.
Dianne Stewart Hamlin, an attorney for the family of the student abused by Howard, said she believes there is a “pattern of carelessness” on the part of the school system that allowed for the continuing abuse in her client’s case and the most recent Carraway case. Hamlin said a simple Internet search revealed the past charges against Howard.
“I have children and I always do a background check on their babysitters,” Hamlin said. “If there were even a hint of a possibility that something would be out of line, I wouldn’t hire them. The school board has a higher threshold because they’re responsible for other people’s children.”
Via Washington Post