A 2011 study published by the Washington Post showed that from a nationally representative sample of students, nearly half reported that they had been subject to some form of sexual harassment in school. Since then, the number of students who have experienced sexual assault at school has only increased. These alarming statistics underscore a disturbing trend that has emerged in MCPS in the last few months: school employees are continuously getting reported and arrested for inappropriate behavior with children.
Mike Lievano, a security guard employed at Rockville High School and later Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 15 years of registration as a sex offender, and probation for having sexual relations with a 14 year old student. The victim claimed to have initiated contact with Lievano, dating him for approximately two months and having sexual intercourse with him at least twice. His “breach of trust” illuminates the careless abuse of power among authority figures in MCPS, and parallels a similar instance at Richard Montgomery High School just last year.
In April of 2017, Mark Yantsos, the security team leader at Richard Montgomery, was arrested for having inappropriate relations with a 17-year-old student. Text messages and photographs of their relationship were found, along with gifts and money he had sent the student. He was charged with sexual abuse of a minor and fourth degree sex offense.
Roy Simmons, a former MCPS employee, was arrested in October over an alleged incident in 2016 where he inappropriately touched the chest of a 10-year-old female student. He was indicted on charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sex offense, and released on $15,000 bail. His comments to law enforcement following the indictment, however, provide meaningful insight into how these powerful men justify their actions.
When questioned for his interpretation of the events, he claimed, “[The girl was] kind of flirting.” Simmons’ claim that the young girl had provoked his advances points to the increased amount of apologist rhetoric surrounding sexual assault cases. In addition to defending themselves, perpetrators are oftentimes protected by their ranks within the school.
A prime example of this is renowned MCPS teacher Eric Walstein, who has been renowned in the past for being one of the county’s most highly-regarded high school math teachers. Many alumni from Blair High School are re-examining their time with the now-retired teacher and connecting with former classmates online to share their stories about his inappropriate conduct throughout the years. When a concerned parent came forward with allegations against him over a year before he voluntarily retired, Walstein was later removed from the substitute teaching roster.
The question gnawing at many now is whether his impressive professional credentials delayed decisive action on the part of the administrative team at the high school. This is supplemented by the growing speculation about transparency in the legal system for such cases. Jennifer Alvaro, a parent from Bethesda, claims to have been filing public information requests for five years in hopes to learn more about the scale of sexual assault in Montgomery County.
Whether or not the county has any hand in covering up information related to these cases, there is a clear lack of access to legal documents on the matter, possibly enabling sexual predators. In addition to reaching MoCo’s own staff and students, the same issues of sexual harassment, assault, and rape are currently also permeating global news in the political, entertainment, and athletic spheres. With increased social awareness of such issues and support for those who do come forward, MCPS is fast approaching a time where decency should be a given in the school system, not a pleasant surprise.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Sreelekha Chillanki of Richard Montgomery High School