Maryland Department of Education seeks information from Heritage after Becker plea

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The Maryland State Department of Education asked the administration of Heritage Academy, a private Christian school near Hagerstown, to provide information about its policies regarding reporting abuse and neglect, background checks and other information.

And the department wants documents on what the school did to investigate allegations against former teacher and heritage board member Robert W. Becker, who was sentenced to prison last month for assaulted a heritage student in the 1970s.

Heritage Academy has been ordered to comply by October 19.

Although Heritage is a private school, it operates under a “Certificate of Approval” from MSDE. In a statement to Herald-Mail Media, the department said:

“The Maryland State Department of Education has become aware of reports of sexual misconduct by a Heritage Academy, Inc. teacher against a student in the 1970s, and the teacher’s recent conviction .

“…To verify that Heritage Academy Inc. is operating today in accordance with Maryland law and regulation, MSDE is currently conducting a review of the school’s policies and procedures in accordance with (applicable law), in order to ensure that the school is currently complying with all necessary regulatory conditions.”

MSDE requires Heritage Academy to submit documentation of background checks for all current employees, a copy of the school’s written policies on mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect, and documentation of any investigation conducted by the school in response to the Becker case.

Heritage Academy officials haven’t had much to say publicly since The Herald-Mail published a series of articles in the fall of 2021 on complaints about two former teachers at the school or following the recent plea from Becker, the former teacher and board member.

Previously:Former Heritage Academy teacher charged with child abuse

Learn more about the incident:Heritage Academy reopened abuse and misconduct investigations, but accusers await answers a year later

In depth:‘I was groomed for sexual abuse within the walls of Heritage Academy,’ accuser says

But on Thursday, the school’s board sent a three-paragraph letter to parents assuring them that “the safety, health and spiritual growth of their children are our primary concern”.

The letter, obtained by The Herald-Mail, states that “Our current board and administration have recently become aware of the conviction of a former teacher at Heritage Academy for an incident of abuse that occurred 44 years ago. .

“To ensure the safety of our current students, we have a comprehensive policy which is taught to teachers and staff at the start of each year. We are constantly reviewing these policies to ensure they continue to reflect current standards of student protection. “Each of our current teachers and staff members have completed FBI background checks and specific training to prevent and recognize child abuse.”

It does not mention the state review or that Becker was a board member until the complaints surfaced.

The person who was sexually abused in the Becker case said in a phone interview Thursday evening that the letter did not address the issues surrounding the sentencing. The former student, who The Herald-Mail referred to as “Anita” in stories about the case because she is a victim of sexual abuse, said the letter makes Becker’s actions appear to have happened a long time ago at the school when in fact he was with the institution until 2014.

And she said others at school had expressed similar concerns.

Anita said it was hard to believe the school’s statement that she cared about student safety. She said no one from the school has ever contacted her to apologize for what happened to her, and she said a family member who called the school five times to talk about the outcome of the case had never called back.

“I was never prescribed this dignity,” Anita said.

What are the details of Becker’s trial?

Becker, 77, of Hagerstown, pleaded guilty August 25 in Washington County Circuit Court for felony third-degree sexual offense with a minor victim for incidents that occurred in the 1970s at his Christian school office west of Hagerstown. As part of the plea deal, a charge of child abuse by a caretaker was dismissed.

Establishment of the line:When a teacher wants to “stay close,” how close are they?

To look closer:How Faith-Based Institutions Can Respond to Accusations of Abuse

Judge Mark K. Boyer sentenced Becker to 10 years in state prison, suspended for five years.

Becker’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Loren Villa, filed a petition on August 29 to modify the sentence.

Villa wrote that he believes the period required to file the petition will expire before Becker can demonstrate “substantial rehabilitation or treatment”, so he asks the court to keep the petition under review by the court until such time as he requests a hearing or a decision on the application.

The motion was denied on Tuesday, according to online court records.

From 2021:Has Heritage Academy fully investigated the allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct? It’s unclear

Larger look:What is the prevalence of abuse? 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men will be abused in their lifetime

Heritage manager Dave Hobbs did not respond to phone messages or a recent email with questions about what changes, if any, Heritage has made to how it will handle a future complaint – may – even being about a past incident – ​​of sexual harassment or abuse.

In an interview before MSDE’s actions became known, Anita said Hobbs and the board members seemed “in disbelief and protective” when she met with school management in 2020 to again complain about Becker. , who was a member of the school board at the time.

Due to the administration’s lack of response, Anita went to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office the next day to file a complaint against Becker.

What to do:Here are tips for spotting the signs, reporting child abuse in Maryland

After:Here’s what happened in our report into the Heritage Academy abuse allegations

Contributor: Dave McMillion

MSDE Statement on Heritage Academy Policy Review

The Maryland State Department of Education provided the Herald-Mail with the following statement regarding Heritage Academy’s response to complaints of sexual misconduct:

The safety and well-being of children is a priority of the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Heritage Academy, Inc., located in Hagerstown, Maryland, has held a certificate of approval under COMAR 13A.09.09 to operate since 1974, and it is licensed to operate a non-public K-12 school. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has become aware of reports of sexual misconduct by a Heritage Academy, Inc. teacher against a student in the 1970s, and the recent conviction of the teacher. Over the years, the Maryland General Assembly has passed legislation to improve student safety in schools and close the gaps in teaching our children. The legislation includes mandatory criminal background checks, mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect, and mandatory reporting by former employers of an employee’s history of sexual abuse or misconduct. These legislative measures, together with the general monitoring of schools by the MSDE and the process of reviewing teachers’ certification backgrounds, make schools safer for students. To verify that Heritage Academy Inc. is operating today in accordance with Maryland law and regulation, MSDE is currently conducting a review of the school’s policies and procedures in accordance with COMAR 13A.09.09, to ensure that the school is currently meeting all necessary regulatory requirements.

MSDE requests Heritage Academy, Inc. to submit the following documentation to MSDE by October 19, 2022:

  • A completed Non-Public School Criminal Background Check Documentation Control Form, signed and dated by the Chief Legal Authority (COLA), which includes all current school employees;
  • A completed Child Sexual Abuse or Sexual Misconduct Employment History Monitoring Form, signed and dated by COLA, which includes all current school employees;
  • A copy of the school’s written policies and procedures regarding mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect; and
  • Documentation outlining any internal or third-party investigations conducted by the school in response to allegations made against educator RWB regarding 1970s conduct, if any, and any relevant supporting documentation.

Letter to the families of the Board of Directors of the Heritage Academy

The Herald-Mail obtained a copy of a letter the Heritage Academy board sent to families this week:

Dear Heritage Family Member,

We strive to ensure the complete safety of every student at Heritage Academy. Your trust and support are important to us. Our current board and administration recently learned of the conviction of a former teacher at Heritage Academy for an incident of abuse that occurred 44 years ago.

To ensure the safety of our current students, we have a comprehensive policy which is taught to teachers and staff at the start of each year. We constantly review these policies to ensure that they continue to reflect current child protection standards. Each of our current teachers and staff members have completed FBI background checks and undergone specific training to prevent and recognize child abuse.

Please know that the safety, health and spiritual growth of each student is our primary concern. If you have any further questions about this, or if you receive communications about this incident, please contact Mr. Hobbs or the school board.

Sincerely, The Board of Directors of the Heritage Academy

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