About 50 Parents Attend Meeting About Alleged Sexual Assault at Damascus School

About 50 parents attended an early morning meeting at John T. Baker Middle School after a student was allegedly sexually assaulted at the school by a contractor working there.epps

Principal Louise Worthington held the meeting for parents who wanted more information about the incident, according to a letter recently sent home to parents. No additional details about that 7 a.m. meeting held at the media center at the school at  25400 Oak Drive, Damascus were immediately available.

Worthington did not immediately send out a notice to parents about the incident that allegedly occurred on Oct. 6. In the letter to parents, however Worthington explained why in saying, “please be assured that while a letter to the community was not originally sent out, Baker Middle School took swift action in collaboration with the Montgomery County Police and the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Department of School Safety and Security to investigate the incident. In consultation with the police, security personnel and the MCPS Office of School Support and Improvement, a decision was made to not send a letter to the community about this incident when it occurred in order to protect the privacy of the victim.”

She went on to say in the letter, “As principal, the safety and security of all students and staff is my responsibility and I am confident we acted swiftly to ensure this incident was investigated. However, it is also important that I communicate with you in a timely manner about such incidents. I apologize for any concern caused by our decision not to send a letter home.”

According to charging documents, a 12-year-old student was walking to class in the hallway of school and John Edward Epps, Jr. of Fort Washington was in the hallway walking in the opposite direction. The report claims that as Epps passed the student , he reached out with his left hand and made an “unsolicited and unwanted touching of the left buttocks of the juvenile victim.” According to the report the student, “turned around in shock and observed the suspect hurrying away up a staircase of the school.”

A teacher allegedly saw the incident and alerted school security, according to police report.

According to Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig, Epps was a contractor hired by Netcom, Inc. through a temporary agency. In a statement Tofig said, “Netcom, Inc.’s policy is that it completes criminal background checks on all of its potential employees before being hired. The individual in question is not listed on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry. The temporary agency provided Netcom, Inc. with documentation to show that a criminal background check had been completed and showed no prior criminal record. However, the Department of School Safety and Security reviewed the matter after the individual’s arrest and discovered that the temporary employee had a criminal record, and the background check that had been completed by the temporary agency was inaccurate.  As the temporary agency provided the necessary documentation, Netcom, Inc. did not conduct a separate background check.  In the future, Netcom, Inc. will provide criminal background checks on all employees, including employees hired through employment agencies.”

Epps is charged with fourth-degree sex offense and second-degree sex offense. He was arrested and released on bond, according to an online case search. His attorney, James Papirmeister, could not immediately be reached for comment.

“We are asking the contractor for the other schools the contractor worked in, but do not have the list yet,” Tofig told MyMCMedia Tuesday.  “We know he worked in Damascus High School and the principal has sent a letter home.”

Tofig in a written statement said, “Maryland law requires that any person who enters into a contract with a county Board of Education or a nonpublic school “may not knowingly employ an individual to work at a school” if the individual is a registered sex offender. An employer who violates this requirement is guilty of a misdemeanor and if convicted may be subject to up to five years imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine. Each contractor is required to screen its workforce to ensure that a registered sex offender does not perform work at a county public school and also to ensure that a subcontractor and independent contractor conducts screening of their personnel who may work at a school. The term “workforce” is intended to refer to all of the contractor’s direct employees and subcontractors and/or independent contractors it used to perform the work. Violation of this provision may cause Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to take action against the contractor up to and including termination of the contract. MCPS communicates these requirements to all contractors and potential contractors.”

Gboyinde Onijala, MCPS spokeswoman, said the school system would make no additional comment on the case.

Epps is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 21.
 
The following letter was sent to parents of students at Poolesville High School.

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About Susan Burkinshaw

Susan Burkinshaw is a 20+ year resident of Montgomery County. She is married and has three children, one in Montgomery County Public Schools, two in college. She has been a community advocate for over 10 years, primarily focusing on public safety, student health and safety, bullying prevention, teen drug and alcohol awareness, and best practices for prevention and intervention strategies, primarily in Montgomery County, Maryland and Montgomery County Public Schools. Susan was recognized by The White House as a Champion of Change for Parents on Education in April, 2012, and is a graduate of the Leadership Montgomery Class of 2012, and a former member of the Board of Directors of Montgomery County Council of PTAs. She is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School MBA program. Susan is also an advocate for the arts, serving as Treasurer of the Board of Trustees for BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. Susan works full time as Controller for CPR MultiMedia Solutions, a live events production company headquartered in Gaithersburg. In April 2015, Susan was appointed by the County Executive to the Montgomery County Transit Taskforce.

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