Image credit: Project Baltimore
This town hall was held on Thursday, Feb. 27.
WBFF-TV Project Baltimore, the news station that broke the story, held the public meeting.
A wall of silence surrounding Baltimore County Public Schools and its decision to allow Santino E. Sudano, a 21-year-old convicted sexual offender, to attend classes at Parkville High School has led to a town hall meeting, created to hear public concern and answer questions.
But instead of being hosted by the school district, which has been mostly silent about its decision to allow Sudano to enroll despite his sexually violent history, it will be provided by the news agency that first broke the story.
“Project Baltimore has been reporting on the situation at Parkville High School for more than a month. In that time, Baltimore County’s current and former superintendent, Parkville’s principal and other high level administrators have refused to interview with us,” said Project Baltimore Investigative Reporter Chris Papst.
“We believe the community deserves answers as to why a 21-year-old convicted sex offender was allowed to attend Parkville. This town hall will be an opportunity for the community to voice their concerns, ask questions and hear directly from their elected leaders. We’ve asked Baltimore County Superintendent Dr. Darryl Williams to join the conversation. He declined our invitation. We hope he changes his mind. The community wants to hear from him,” Papst said.
WBFF-TV Project Baltimore reports that, after being told by a county schools’ spokesperson that “a whole bunch of different people” made the decision to allow Sudano special permission to attend the high school despite being a registered sex offender, the station and the community still do not know what led to the decision – not only to allow Sudano to sit among other unknowing students, but that parents were not informed that their teenagers were attending school with a convicted rapist.
Sudano pleaded guilty in 2017 to a fourth degree sex offense involving a 13-year-old girl when he was 19-years-old at the time. Although his eight-year prison sentence would be suspended, he was required to register on the state’s sex offender registry.
Despite his criminal background, Project Baltimore found that Sudano was given written permission by Parkville High School’s principal to re-enroll at the school.
Since then, Sudano allegedly sexually assaulted two more students – one who attended the same high school – while students and parents were unaware that a fellow student had such a criminal record.
He was arrested in December for a third alleged sexual assault, is currently incarcerated and is awaiting a rescheduled hearing, state records show. His charges include second degree rape, third and fourth degree sex offenses, and second degree assault.
But since Project Baltimore broke the story, some parents of students who attend the high school are outraged and frustrated that they have not been provided answers by the school district.
On Thursday, the station will be hosting the public meeting, called “Registered and Enrolled,” to address parents’ frustrations where concerned members of the community can ask questions of Project Baltimore and elected officials.
Since breaking the story in January, the station reports that hundreds of people have reached out to Project Baltimore with their concerns.
Baltimore County Public School staff are unable to comment on specific student matters, but the silence about how a sex offender could be enrolled at a public high school has caused upset for some in the Parkville community.
In response to the station’s reporting, some members of the Maryland General Assembly put forth legislation to prevent students from attending Maryland schools who have been convicted of crimes such as Sudano.
And the proposed bill has strong bipartisan support.
Among them is a senate bill sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and cross-filed by Democratic State Delegates Carl Jackson and Harry Bhandari and Republican Del. Joe Boteler, the bill aims to make it illegal for sex offenders of any age to attend school with other students anywhere in the state.
Klausmeier, who represents the state’s eighth legislative district, did not mince words during a press conference earlier this month in which she said she was “appalled” by the news. She said she was putting forth the bill because, “We do not want this to happen again. There will be no sex offenders in our schools in Maryland.”
“If you are any age – 20, 19, 16, 14, 21 – you, as a sex offender, are not going to be allowed in a school…” Klausmeier said. “There are alternative ways to educate students without allowing them to sit in classrooms next to other middle or high school students.”
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, a Democrat, also spoke in support of the state bill, stating that he was “shocked, furious and frustrated” by the reports and that “sex offenders have no place in our schools. Period.”
Although not addressing how Sudano was permitted to attend the school in the first place, Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams addressed the topic with the Baltimore County House Delegation. He told delegates earlier this month, “We will not have sexual offenders in our school building.”
It is not clear whether current Maryland law tied the hands of the district which allowed Sudano to be enrolled in the school or whether any type of alternative education was offered to him which would meet the state’s requirements of educating all students.
Last fall, on the Parkville MD The real people of 21234 Facebook group, some parents who recognized Sudano from the Maryland Sex Offender Registry Search list, expressed concerns to the school system and each other.
Those concerns went unaddressed until the story reached the level of county and state officials, but only after Project Baltimore covered the story and exposed that Sudano had been arrested again and had been involved in alleged subsequent sexual assaults involving Baltimore County students.
The station is providing the forum for the public as a way to allow the community to weigh-in on the impacts of the school system’s decision to allow Sudano to attend the school despite his sexually violent past, while he sat alongside Baltimore County school girls, putting them at risk.
The “Registered & Enrolled” town hall, which will include a panel of elected officials, is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7:00 pm at Tall Cedars of Lebanon, located at 2501 Putty Hill Avenue in Parkville.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Sudano was convicted of a rape charge in 2017. While he was charged with that offense, he ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, fourth degree sexual assault. This story has been updated to reflect the correction.