DAMASCUS – A middle school eventually notified parents of an alleged sexual assault from October after media outlets criticized Montgomery County Public Schools for keeping the incident quiet.
52 total views, 1 views today
On Oct. 6, 44-year-old camera maintenance worker John E. Epps, Jr. allegedly touched 12-year-old student Jasmine Andoh-Thompson’s buttocks at Baker Middle School, according to court documents. Police identified Epps on security footage as the suspect and charged him with second-degree assault and fourth-degree sex offense.
The Montgomery County Circuit Court has scheduled his trial date for Nov. 21. Meanwhile, parents have voiced concern that MCPS did not notify them of the incident. Many found out when WJLA posted a story about the incident on Nov. 2 in which they interviewed Andoh-Thompson and her mother.
In the letter to parents on Nov. 3 in response to media coverage, Baker Middle School principal Louise Worthington said officials wanted to protect the student’s privacy.
“In consultation with the MCPS Office of School Support and Improvement, the Montgomery County Police Department and MCPS Department of Safety and Security, a decision was made to not send a letter to the community about this incident when it occurred in order to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the minor-aged victim,” Worthington wrote.
Baker administrators also held a parent coffee on the morning of Nov. 5 to answer any questions and address parent concerns.
“I am committed to acting swiftly to resolve all future incidences and to communicate in a timely manner with the Baker community,” Worthington wrote.
Baker Middle School officials contacted the police and Andoh-Thompson’s parents after the incident, according to a statement from MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala.
“Given that it was an isolated incident, the school decided not to send a letter home,” she said in the statement.
Fausto Vela, who has two students at Baker, said he understood the privacy motivation but still felt it was important for parents to be notified. He and a few others met with Worthington and an MCPS representative earlier this week.
“We heard the reasons behind the silence in that case, why the school decided not to communicate. While we at least understand the reasons, the protection of the girl, we shared our disagreement,” he said. “We’re a very tight-knit community and it requires that communication from schools to let the community know so we can basically get together and resolve problems.”
He said the principal seemed receptive, and thinks that next time something happens the principal will at least notify the PTA to see if it’s something parents want to know.
While privacy is of the utmost importance, the school system also could have notified parents without violating Andoh-Thompson’s privacy, according to Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“(The school) certainly can let other parents know that something happened at the school without mentioning the student’s name,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to talk to parents about sexual assault, to let parents talk to their children about sexual assault, and we see far too many cases where sexual assault happened and the survivor does not feel comfortable coming forward.”
Jordan said the administration should not only be talking to parents about this issue when something happens, but should make it a continuous conversation.
Jordan said although most people hear about sexual assault on college campuses, it happens in high school, middle school and even elementary school more than people think.
“It certainly happens often enough that parents need to be aware of it and the students need sexual assault prevention programming as part of their education,” she said.
Epps worked for Netcom Technologies, Inc., which hired him through an employment agency that provided proof of a background check. According to court documents Epps is not listed in the Maryland sex offender registry, but the police investigation revealed two past charges of sexual assault.
The first was on June 16, 2001 when he was charged with a sex offense of an adult female. No more information was available in the court database.
The second occurred on Oct. 24, 2010, when he was charged with two counts of second-degree assault, one count of trespassing on private property and one count of fourth-degree sex offense in the District Court for Anne Arundel County. He pled guilty to one count of second-degree assault in exchange for probation and dropping the other charges, according to defense attorney James Papirmeister.
Papirmeister is defending Epps in the pending case as well and so could not comment on it.
MCPS requires that any contractors conduct background checks on their employees and their subcontractors and/or independent contractors, according to Onijala.
“Violation of this provision may cause Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to take action against the contractor up to and including termination of the contract,” she said in the statement, although she did not specify that the school system would take action in this case. “In the future, Netcom, Inc. will provide criminal background checks on all employees, including employees hired through employment agencies.”
Vela still questions how MCPS will follow up to make sure contractors do thorough background checks.
“What we don’t have direct control over is MCPS which is a little bit more challenging. Me as a parent, I want to make sure that I find out what’s happening at that end,” he said.
In Montgomery County, those who have been affected by sexual assault can reach out to the Victim Assistance & Sexual Assault Program hotline at (240) 777-1355. Every jurisdiction has a Rape Crisis and Recovery Center. Find a full list of centers in Maryland at mcasa.org.