‘We Want Resolution … As Badly as Students And Staff and Parents Do’

SALISBURY – School system officials are asking for the community’s patience and support following the criminal indictment of a James M. Bennett High School guidance counselor.

At the start of last week’s Wicomico County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Donna Hanlin addressed the public’s concerns regarding charges against James M. Bennett High School guidance counselor Allen Edward Mitchell, 32, of Fruitland.

Mitchell was arrested on multiple charges in January after it was alleged he engaged in several instances of sexual misconduct with minors, to include the criminal use of social media apps, according to an initial statement from the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center.

Mitchell was placed on administrative leave during the investigation. And on Feb. 4, he was indicted on 31 charges, including sex abuse of a minor, possession of child pornography, third-degree sex offense and filming a minor in a sex act.

“I know that the community wants answers. So do we,” Hanlin said. “We want resolution to the situation just as badly as students and staff and parents do. And together we wait for the outcome of the investigation by law enforcement and that of the state’s attorney’s office.”

Hanlin said school system officials would not comment on personnel matters or interfere with the criminal investigation, but noted several efforts to rearrange administrative staff at the school following Mitchell’s arrest.

“Once this investigation has been completed and all of the facts are known then we will be able to make appropriate decisions moving forward,” she said.

Until that time, Hanlin said Assistant Principal Erin Nathan would be the administrator in charge at Bennett High, and several officials from the central office – including Assistant Superintendent Rick Briggs and Director of Secondary Education Micah Stauffer – will be stationed at the school regularly.

“Additionally, recently retired guidance counselors have returned,” she said. “They have been hired contractually and are also there to assist students on a daily basis.”

Hanlin noted students would continue to receive “high-quality instruction” despite recent events and asked for continued patience and support from members of the school community.

Board President Don Fitzgerald agreed.

“This board, this school system, in the last month has been hurt,” he said. “But we cannot let that drag us down.”

Fitzgerald added that Hanlin and school system officials did not take the issue lightly.

“If we didn’t love this [school] system we wouldn’t take it to heart, and all of us sitting in here today take it to heart,” he said. “We can’t change anything. We are going to go forward, and we are going to be positive.”

Board member Allen Brown agreed.

“As a school system we have weathered the storms,” he said, “and I feel confident we’ll continue to do that.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.