[Baltimore Sun] After second hearing, Severna Park teacher accused of child sexual abuse will remain in jail

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Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Cathleen Vitale said she knows there will come a time when the credibility of eight Severna Park Elementary School students will be scrutinized in court. But on Tuesday, she said the accusations they’ve made against third-grade teacher Matthew Schlegel were enough to keep the 44-year-old in jail.

“This is their voice right now,” Vitale said, upholding a district court judge’s ruling earlier this month that Schlegel be held without bond.

Schlegel, a 16-year veteran of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, was first accused in March of inappropriately touching one of his students. Removed indefinitely from a child-facing position, he became the subject of a two-month investigation, in which eight female students described being touched in and outside of his classroom.

Schlegel was arrested at his home in Severna Park May 16 and charged with 36 offenses, including seven counts of child sex abuse and 14 counts of fourth-degree sex offense. A preliminary hearing in Annapolis District Court is scheduled for June 12.

According to defense attorney Peter O’Neill, Schlegel and the Anne Arundel County Public School System have also become the subjects of civil litigation filed by families of the alleged victims. The case is not available to review through the Maryland Judiciary but O’Neill, who said he will not be representing Schlegel in the civil suit, did present a copy of the complaint in Circuit Court.

Bob Mosier, a school spokesperson, said Anne Arundel Public Schools does not comment on active litigation.

On Tuesday, in front of dozens of spectators, O’Neill reiterated several arguments as to why Schlegel should be released on house arrest and again suggesting he could stay with his parents in Rockville. He said his client posed no flight risk, having stayed in Anne Arundel County with a full understanding of the likelihood of his arrest; has the “largest family ties you can have” in the area; and, after nearly two decades of teaching, has never been accused of misconduct by an adult colleague.

Over 30 people, including some of Schlegel’s family members, friends and former students, attended Tuesday’s hearing. Schlegel was shown via Zoom from the Jennifer Road Detention Center. Their presence, and written statements of support, vouched for Schlegel’s “high moral character,” O’Neill said.

Schlegel is married and has two children.

“Even though you’re charged with the worst kind of charges…these are people who are willing to stand up” for Schlegel, O’Neill said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Anastasia Prigge described Schlegel as “two people” — the family man dedicated to his work and friends, and the predator who used his status as a “beloved teacher” to entrap and victimize his students.

“They can be fervent in their beliefs,” Prigge said, referring to Schlegel’s supporters, “but that doesn’t mean he didn’t abuse children.”

Between late March and late April, Child Protective Services conducted forensic interviews with eight of Schlegel’s female students, some from this school year and others who are older. According to charging documents, they described being touched in open and private spaces, like the classroom or bathroom. Sometimes, the conduct was more discreet, made under desks, but other times, it was done in front of others. Multiple witnesses told investigators they had seen students sitting on Schlegel’s lap during class, police said.

In a May 17 hearing, Anne Arundel District Judge Kemp W. Hammond said he was “extremely disturbed” by the allegations and on Tuesday, Vitale said they were “horrendous at best” and “heinous if true.”

On the other side of the courtroom away from O’Neill, several parents and supporters of the students attended Tuesday’s hearing. None spoke, though many stood up when asked to identify themselves.

Vitale acknowledged that Schlegel’s case is “highly charged” and urged them to allow the court process to take place. Any actions outside of proper decorum would only hurt the children, she said.

Schlegel has worked in the Anne Arundel school system since 2008, first as a second grade teacher at Tyler Heights Elementary before moving to Severna Park Elementary in 2016.

Though he has been arrested, Child Abuse Unit detectives are asking anyone with information on this or other potential cases to call 410-222-4733. Anonymous tips may also be left on the Anne Arundel County Police Tip Line at 410-222-4700.

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