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Flaws in backgrounding allowed teacher with misconduct allegations to work in Baltimore-area schools

Lockers in a Baltimore school. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)
Ulysses Muñoz
The Baltimore Banner
Lockers in a Baltimore school.

A lack of clear understanding by school administrators about what constitutes grooming behavior was a key factor in the case of a former Baltimore County teacher who went on to teach at two Catholic schools despite a history of misconduct; that’s according to an investigative report from the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education.

In 2022, Mark Planamente, 40, was charged with sexual solicitation of a minor. Last year, Planamente pleaded guilty to that charge and according to jail records is now serving a five-year sentence in Baltimore City Correctional Center. At the time of his arrest, Planamente was teaching at Sisters Academy of Baltimore, a Catholic school for late elementary and middle school girls in Southwest Baltimore.

He had previously served as a teacher at The Catholic High School of Baltimore and before that, in Baltimore County Public Schools. Planamente was found to have a history of inappropriate communications with students at both schools.

The OIGE investigation, released Monday, sought to find whether policy or procedural violations could have allowed such an individual to repeatedly come into contact with minors — specifically the agency questioned whether the schools failed to comply with the state’s background check requirements. The OIGE did not find Baltimore County Public Schools, The Catholic High School of Baltimore, or Sister Academy of Baltimore to be at fault.

It did find weaknesses in how schools communicate through background checks.

“The investigation revealed the lack of understanding of what constitutes grooming behaviors by school administrators, which has resulted in inconsistent responses from educational institutions regarding allegations of sexual misconduct,” wrote the inspector general. “The situation emphasizes the urgent need for better guidelines, enhanced institutional communication and standardized training.”

The OIGE found that the Maryland education statute identifies grooming as part of sexual misconduct but not fully defined on its own. Per the state’s Department of Human Services, the act is defined as “grooming a child for sexual activity means forming an emotional connection with a child with the intent of making the child more receptive to sexual conduct.”

Background on Planamente and Maryland’s screening system

Planamente worked as a teacher at BCPS when in 2014, he sent a message to a student on Twitter, now ‘X’, asking if she “had a crush on him”, according to the OIGE report. The girl’s mother contacted the school and upon investigation, the district recommended Planamente’s termination. He was instead allowed to resign in 2015 before going on to work as a substitute teacher and coach at The Catholic High School of Baltimore in 2016 where he was ultimately hired full-time in 2017.

Maryland updated its background check laws in 2019 when a law that requires schools to screen prospective employees went into effect. That requires direct communication with previous employers to determine whether there were disciplinary actions or allegations related to sexual abuse or misconduct. That screening also includes a long list of “yes or no” questions detailing whether a candidate has been the subject of an investigation into sexual abuse or misconduct.

When a candidate signs those forms, they are required to acknowledge that they could be terminated for supplying false information, however, they are not required to acknowledge that the information they provided is true.

When Planamente applied to Sisters Academy of Baltimore, he marked “no” to questions detailing whether he had been previously fired or asked to resign for misconduct, despite his resignation from BCPS in 2015.

Catholic conducted a criminal background check and used professional references when it hired Planamente in 2016 but those failed to shine light on the reasons for his departure from BCPS in 2015. When allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Planamente and a Catholic student emerged in 2021, an investigation commenced and Planamente resigned after being put on administrative leave.

Administrators from Catholic flagged a “yes” on Planamente’s background forms for potential misconduct which in turn prompted administrators at Sisters to contact the school before hiring Planamente. The employee from Catholic informed the employee from Sisters that there were emails between Planamente and a student that were “unprofessional and inappropriate”, however, Catholic did not have any pending investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct or child abuse by Planamente. Sisters Academy of Baltimore ultimately went forward with the hire.

The OIGE reports that Sisters Academy told investigators that they have undergone more training on what grooming looks like and understand the definition more fully since the incident with Planamente.

The administrator responsible for the background screening at BCPS marked “no” on all questions. When questioned by the OIGE, the BCPS employee explained that although the comments made on Twitter were inappropriate, they were not explicitly sexual nor were they sexual advances. The employee pointed out that definitions around child abuse are very narrow and subject to individual interpretation.

BCPS told the OIGE that they are in the process of updating their definitions to include “grooming.”


The OIGE found that a lack of clear definitions on “grooming” prompted three different institutions to respond to the issue differently, which could ultimately compromise student safety.

The agency worked alongside the Maryland State Department of Education to create the following recommendations:

  • a new standard for training materials and guidelines that will include comprehensive clarification for sexual misconduct and grooming behaviors for all schools
  • a compliance mechanism to make sure all staff complete mandatory training
  • a checklist for administrators to guide them through applicant suitability and illustrative cases that can be used for informative purposes
  • an “Under the Penalty of Perjury” clause for Employment History Review Form
  • review language in the statue statutes to make language consistent with mandatory reporting requirements
Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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