GAITHERSBURG – Montgomery County Public School officials say their abuse-reporting protocol needs improvement.
On Dec. 4, MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr announced the school system is undertaking several measures to improve its reporting of sexual abuse incidents. In November the school system came under intense criticism from parents for what is being described as lax reporting of sexual abuse incidents. Parents said they remained unaware of two separate incidents of sexual misconduct by MCPS staff members and contractors for a month after they occurred.
According to court and public records, since 1999, 21 MCPS employees and contractors have been arrested for child and sexual abuse.
MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said parents are notified about incidents when it is appropriate and police investigations may delay the notification time
“My top priority is the health and wellness of our students. This includes ensuring that any allegation or suspicion of child abuse is handled appropriately and thoroughly,” Dr. Starr said. “In my three and a half years as superintendent of Montgomery County Schools, I have seen our schools and offices handle these matters appropriately. A vast majority of the time we get it right. However, recent incidents lead me to believe there is more we can do to improve our policies and procedures.”
Since the recent allegations against Jose Pineda, a former substitute charged with inappropriately touching four middle school-aged girls, were first reported, MCPS has held a training session for principals on reporting and handling abuse incidents in school. Dr. Starr said the school system created a database to track employees and contractors accused of sexual misconduct even if the accusations weren’t investigated or prosecuted. The school system has also assembled a work group made up of staff, community members, parents, police and members of the Montgomery County State’s Attorney Office to look at the school system’s reporting of the incidents.
On Feb. 2, the County Council’s education committee will discuss the school system’s delay in reporting sexual and child abuse incidents.
“Recently, some of us have been shaken by multiple reports of possible abuse at public schools in Montgomery County. To heighten our concern, these incidents have spurred a larger discussion within the county as to how these incidents are handled and whether additional measures may need to be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of our students,” said ED committee chairman Councilmember Craig Rice (D-2).
Pineda, a substitute teacher for MCPS during the 2013-2014 school year, is facing six counts of third-degree sexual abuse. Pineda is accused of squeezing, inappropriately rubbing against and/or inappropriately touching the thighs and buttocks of several underage students. Police also investigated nine additional claims of inappropriate touching but said they were not criminal cases. Montgomery County Police spokesperson Captain Paul Starks said the claims include Pineda brushing up against a student, accidentally touching a student and massaging a student’s back or shoulder. They are being treated as witness claims.
In October, police charged Pineda with three counts of third-degree sexual assault. He was released on $25,000 bond. Later, three more victims came forward and police charged Pineda with three more counts of third-degree sexual assault. Police said the incidents occurred between 2004 and 2014 and include four student victims who were all 12 years old during the alleged incidents. Pineda is currently being held on $150,000 bond.
Pineda’s work history shows MCPS employed him as a bus driver from 2000-2003 before employing him as a substitute teacher from 2003-2006. He did not work for MCPS from 2006-2013; police are trying to piece together Pineda’s work history during that time period. MCPS hired him as a substitute teacher in 2013 and he worked for 111 days during the 2013-2014 school year.
Police said Pineda taught a variety of subjects and grade levels, including kindergarten through fifth grade, middle school and high school. From November 2013 to September 2014, Pineda worked at Twinbrook Elementary School, Ridgeview Middle School, Earle B. Wood Middle School, Montgomery Blair High School, Seneca Valley High School, Gaithersburg High School, Rosa Parks Middle School, Watkins Mill High School, Gaithersburg Middle School, Forest Oak Middle School, Goshen Elementary School, Roberto W. Clemente Middle School, Maryvale Elementary School, Clopper Mill Elementary School, Julius West Middle School, Gaithersburg Elementary School, Parkland Magnet Middle School, Longview School and Rockville High School. He taught English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), English, math, science, biology, computer science, technology and special education classes.
Montgomery County Police are asking anyone who believes they are a victim of Pineda to contact police.