BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA9) — More than 20 Montgomery County Public Schools employees or contract workers have been investigated for child sex abuse or exploitation since 2011.
Parents are extremely upset, not just by the alleged crimes but the fact that in many cases, complaints and warning signs were either ignored or disregarded by the school system.
WUSA9 counted 21 MCPS employees or contract workers who have been investigated for child sex abuse or exploitation in just the last four years. Many have been prosecuted.
“It’s heart-wrenching, it’s horrifying, it’s appalling. It’s absolutely unacceptable. And every parent watching this segment should be filled with outrage,” said Jennifer Alvaro, a parent and child sex abuse expert.
Music teacher Lawrence Joynes was arrested in 2013 and charged with sexually abusing 15 children at New Hampshire Estates Elementary School. Records show he repeatedly videotaped little girls sucking on large peppermint sticks. Police say he later photoshopped their faces onto pornographic images.
Records reveal that in 2011, because of previous complaints, the school’s principal ordered him not to touch or be alone with children, yet the alleged abuse continued. He’s also facing rape charges for an alleged assault on a student decades ago. Joynes now faces two trials this spring.
Read an excerpt from the statement of charges for Joynes:
“Lawrence Joynes advised that he has had several students in his class room during lunch time. The students are female students which he invites into his class room. Lawrence Joynes described how he has played games with his students, having the student suck on a peppermint stick. Lawrence Joynes also described how he had a student…suck on his finger. Lawrence Joynes demonstrated how he would move his finger in and out of the student’s mouth. Lawrence Joynes further advised that he would video tape himself sticking his finger in the student’s mouth. Lawrence Joynes stated that he would watch the videos of himself sticking his finger in the student’s mouth then masturbate while visualizing the student performing oral sex on him. Lawrence Joynes advised that [the student] was 7 or 8 years old at the time.”
2013 Joynes Rape Charges
“Why are we not stopping the presses, as they did at Penn State, as they did in the Catholic Church…we have a problem here,” said Susan Burkinshaw, a parent and child safety advocate.
John Epps Junior was a contract employee for MCPS who did work in 58 schools. Ironically, the security camera technician was caught on surveillance video grabbing the behind of a 12 year-old Baker Middle School student. He’s alleged to have done the same to a Damascus High School student. Court documents show Epps had a criminal history of groping women in public, of which the school system was unaware. He will go to trial in March for those school groping incidents.
“Nobody is listening. Nobody seems to want to make the right decisions and hard choices to fix this problem and protect our kids,” Burkinshaw said.
MCPS wouldn’t tell WUSA9 who is on it, but we’ve learned the school system keeps a “confidential database” of personnel who demonstrate “inappropriate or suspicious behavior” toward children – a watch list of suspected abusers who are working in area schools.
“It’s one of the most ludicrous, offensive things I’ve ever heard of being done. And I’ve worked in the field of child sexual abuse for 22 years,” Alvaro said.
“If we’re that worried about these individuals, they need to be removed from the classroom,” said Janis Sartucci of the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County.
Elementary school teacher Daniel Picca was terminated by MCPS but never criminally charged. His alleged abuse of children spanned 17 years, dating back to 1993. According to State Board of Education records, Picca had little boys take off their shirts, flex their muscles and slide back and forth on his lap, often photographing them. Yet, as his “punishment” he was moved from one elementary school to another again and again and again – from Rachel Carson to Luxmanor to Kemp Mill.
“If you’re banned at one school, that should be enough to get you banned from every school,” Sartucci said.
Picca still works with children and has a license to teach in Maryland.
MCPS declined our request for an on-camera interview, but a spokesman said the county has already begun the process of overhauling its system of recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect. In a January memo to the school board from former Superintendent Joshua Starr, he noted “the need for redesign has become apparent during the past several years.”