St. Mary's Schools To Implement Checks After Two Staff Charged With Sex Offenses - Southern Maryland Headline News

St. Mary's Schools To Implement Checks After Two Staff Charged With Sex Offenses

By Guy Leonard, County Times

LEONARDTOWN, Md. (April 17, 2008)—Two men who have worked for the county school system have been arrested in as many weeks for suspected sex offenses, either involving a female student or an underage female, and the school system’s superintendent says that all employees, whether hired by the school system or who come on as volunteers, will be under greater scrutiny.

“It’s going to happen,” said Superintendent Michael Martirano. “The safety of our children is the most important thing we do.”

Martirano said that going over the backgrounds of all people involved with children in the system, other than system employees who’ve already been vetted, would be challenging but just as necessary.

“It’s a different day and we have to be vigilant,” Martirano said.

Edward Weiland, head of human resources for the school system said the status of part-time or paid volunteers working at the school level was of particular concern.

The latest arrest involved Scott Strandberg, 24, of Lexington Park, a former drum line coach for Leonardtown High School. As a paid volunteer, Weiland said, he was not subject to the same kind of background check that school system employees or substitute teachers had to submit to.

“It’s my understanding that he was being paid out of the school’s account,” Weiland said, adding the most recent arrest caused a great deal of concern. “We don’t have too many of those [paid volunteers] people.”

“We are reevaluating our policies as we speak,” Weiland said. “We’re taking a close look in what we’re doing with anybody who is a paid volunteer, to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“You want to be proactive.”

Martirano said that system staff will comb through criminal records data bases and sex offender registries to search potential volunteers’ backgrounds to start. The superintendent said that he plans on purchasing an automated system that can yield information on an applicant with a swipe of a driver’s license but systems are still being reviewed.

Strandberg is charged with having sexual contact with a 16-year-old female student both at his home and on a school bus. The events occurred between September and November of last year.

Strandberg currently faces the official charge of child sexual abuse, which carries a possible penalty of 25 years in prison if he is convicted, and has been terminated from his position as a drum line coach at the school, according to Weiland.

Lt. Rick Burris, commander of the St. Mary’s County Bureau of Criminal Investigations, which is handling the case, said that the rule in Maryland of 16 years old being the age for sexual consent did not apply in this case because of Strandberg’s position.

“It’s so easy to manipulate someone at that age because of their position,” Burris said.

The first case this month of a school system employee being arrested for a sex offense involving a child was that of David Emile Guillemette, 54, of Great Mills. Guillemette worked as a substitute teacher at various elementary schools throughout the county.

Guillemette was charged with committing sexual abuse towards a 15-year-old female visitor at his home as well as with a third degree sex offense and second-degree assault.

The incident is alleged by investigators to have occurred Jan. 1.

Guillemette also lost his job with the county school system, Weiland told The County Times.

According to on-line court documents, Guillemette had no prior criminal record. The same online court document search showed that Strandberg had no criminal record other than charges related to traffic citations and a peace order filed against him where the petitioners failed to appear.

That case was dismissed from District Court.

Strandberg has been released from incarceration at the county detention center on bond. Guillemette was also released on bond.

Background checks were an integral part of hiring school system employees but even then they were not a guarantee that that employee would ever be charged with committing a crime.

“Nobody can predict what a person is going to do.” Weiland said.

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