A disturbing incident in Montgomery County came to light a few weeks ago, as a substitute teacher at Cloverly Elementary School was charged with sexual abuse of a minor and a fourth-degree sex offence. 59-year-old Steven Katz was arrested on March 17 for inappropriately touching an elementary school student.
On March 8, a student at Cloverly told his parents that Katz had touched him in a way that made him feel uncomfortable. The student’s parents immediately went to the school administrators, and the administrators contacted the police.
A police investigation prompted a few other students to come forward with incriminating accounts of how Katz had made them feel weird. One student even alleged that Katz had touched their waist and back. Katz admitted to touching the students during an interview with the investigators, although he claimed it was accidental.
Once the police issued a warrant for his arrest, Katz turned himself in on March 17.
Katz was no stranger to substituting. He had worked previously at 15 schools in Montgomery County, as well as 43 additional schools in Howard County. Until the incident at Cloverly he had had no prior citations for sexual abuse, making his actions all the more disturbing.
MCPS has admitted that their background checks for teachers are imperfect. For substitutes, MCPS often does not contact all the references that applicants provide. However, for people like Katz, who did not seem to display any suspicious behavior before the incident at Cloverly, background checks may not be enough to ensure that teachers are trustworthy.
Unfortunately, the incident with Katz was not the first time that a sexual abuse case rocked Cloverly Elementary School. Former teacher John Vigna is currently serving a 48-year prison sentence for inappropriately touching female students in 2016, while former part-time lunchroom aide Sean Kelley was arrested in January earlier this year for possession of child pornography.
Richard Montgomery had its own incident in April 2017 when security team leader Mark Yantsos was charged with sexual abuse of a minor and a fourth-degree sex offense for having a sexual relationship with a minor. Interestingly, those were the same charges by which Katz was arrested.
Sexual assault has become a huge topic worldwide in recent months, as people have become to come forward with their experiences through mediums like the #MeToo movement. “In light of what has happened with Hollywood and USA Gymnastics, it’s a big issue,” said senior Karen Kayijuka. “[People] need to learn to listen to anybone that’s been abused, and they need to take action.”
With all of these events, parents and students alike are growing increasingly worried about the integrity of the teachers at Cloverly and in MCPS as a whole. “In light of this, and in light of the school shootings, school is a much scarier place to be in,” said sophomore Brennan Rose.
However, many students at Richard Montgomery have affirmed that they are not worried about coming to school. “I feel like I’m safe here,” said Rose, “but I understand why some people may not.” Freshman Rebecca Julka echoed Rose’s statement. “I feel pretty safe,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine anything happening here.”
Featured photo courtesy of NBC News