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A former Montgomery County principal accused of sexual harassment and bullying is “no longer an employee” of the school system, a schools spokesman said Wednesday. A new report documents that the school system was warned of problems in its unit that investigates employee misconduct beginning in 2019 but took little corrective action.
The former principal, Joel Beidleman, had been on administrative leave since August when The Washington Post reported that the school system received at least 18 complaints alleging misconduct by him dating back to 2016. He has denied many of the allegations.
Montgomery schools spokesman Chris Cram declined to say Wednesday whether Beidleman was dismissed, saying it’s a personnel matter. He referred further questions to the former principal, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beidleman stopped receiving his pay Dec. 18.
The departure comes as the Montgomery district, Maryland’s largest school system, has faced criticism and investigations in recent months over how it handled misconduct allegations involving employees – and as the future of its leadership appears in doubt. Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight told reporters this week that the school board has indicated it wants her to step down, creating more uncertainty as the district tries to address problems and restore trust.
The turmoil has left some county officials perplexed.
“I’m not very happy with the way this thing is being handled,” County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said on a weekly call with reporters. “The amount of information we have is minimal.”
Much of the latest criticism was sparked by the allegations against Beidleman, who had been principal of William H. Farquhar Middle School in Olney, Md., until last school year. He was promoted last year to become principal of Paint Branch High School.
But the district placed him on leave after The Post sent questions to the school system this past summer asking about its handling of the misconduct complaints against Beidleman. School system employees and parents recounted a pattern of harassment, threats, retaliation, workplace bullying and other inappropriate misconduct spanning 12 years across three middle school campuses.
Baltimore-based law firm Jackson Lewis was hired to investigate the school system’s response, but the report released to the public in October was heavily redacted. It found that five individuals who participated in Beidleman’s promotion knew about an internal investigation into his conduct and that a central office employee tampered with the investigation.
After Jackson Lewis concluded its investigation, Montgomery County’s inspector general initiated two investigative inquiries of its own. The office said in December that an initial inquiry found evidence that Beidleman violated the school system’s sexual harassment and workplace bullying policies. The office said its investigation included interviews with 31 people with direct information related to alleged misconduct, including 15 who claimed to be victims of bullying, sexual harassment, retaliation and other violations. Beidleman participated in the inquiry.
“I’m thankful that [Beidleman] will be not be treating any other teachers in this school system the way he treated the teachers at Farquhar or before that,” said Ben Israel, the teachers union representative assigned to the middle school during the 2022-2023 school year. “But I mean, the reality is that he was enabled clearly. The public evidence is immense that there was some amount of negligence and enabling going on at the highest levels of MCPS.”
Israel, who has since left the school system, added that he’s witnessed firsthand the widespread fear among MCPS employees. He has “no confidence” in any of the school system’s board leadership to remedy some of the issues.
On Wednesday, the inspector general released a report on its second inquiry, finding that a Montgomery County Public Schools unit in charge of investigating complaints of employee misconduct kept files in “chaotic condition” and that there wasn’t a clear process for how the unit should look into complaints.
“Our findings should not be surprising to some in senior management because similar observations were identified on at least four occasions dating back to 2019,” the county watchdog wrote. “Unfortunately, it does not appear that any substantive action was taken to address the previously noted findings and recommendations.” It did not name specific managers in the report.
The Montgomery County Education Association – a union that represents teachers and other educators in the school system – said in a statement that the failures noted in the inspector general’s report “erodes our confidence in senior leaders entrusted with the oversight of this work.”
“The Board must put a swift end to the chaos,” it said.
McKnight said in a response letter to the inspector general that executive staff turnover could be a reason the recommendations weren’t implemented. She added in a later statement that she was “fully in alignment with the OIG’s recommendations” and pledged to “drive the reforms that will usher in a new era for MCPS.”
“As I’ve said from day one, these issues may not have started on my watch, but as superintendent, they will end on my watch,” McKnight said.
McKnight was previously charged by the school board to develop a “corrective action plan” for the school system. Some updates on the plan were shared this week, including a new system to track complaints and a more robust background check process for employees.
McKnight’s Wednesday statement did not address her apparent quarrel with the school board. She previously vowed to defend her reputation. Board members have punted questions on whether they have any doubts on her leadership.
“That’s work that the board is responsible as an employer in terms of addressing,” the school board’s president, Karla Silvestre, said in an interview. “However, today we are talking about the IG report and her recommendations.”
Silvestre said the board is “committed to getting to the bottom of the root causes that led to this situation and holding individuals accountable.” She added that the board has held some individuals accountable but did not name specific people or actions taken.
Beidleman’s departure was the latest in a raft of personnel changes that has occurred in the Montgomery school district since the fall.
Former deputy superintendent Patrick Murphy left the school system in October. Donna Redmond Jones, associate superintendent of school support and well-being, was placed on leave in October and that remains her status, Cram said. Both of them would have had some hand in Beidleman’s promotion, The Post previously reported.
Eugenia Dawson, a director in the Office of School Support and Well-Being who oversaw Farquhar Middle School, is no longer on administrative leave. She remains employed by the school district, Cram said.
Diane Morris, associate superintendent of schools and well-being and Beidleman’s former supervisor, remains on leave, Cram said Wednesday. Morris, who was the principal of Farquhar Middle before Beidleman, managed his standard five-year evaluation during the 2022-2023 school year, according to a confidential internal school district document previously obtained by The Post.
Silvestre said the school board is aiming to restore trust with its community members by writing stronger policies for investigations of employees. She said the county inspector general is partnering with the school system to fix some of the systemic issues.
“We welcome this collaboration with the county that will assure our public that changes are really going to happen this time,” Silvestre said.
In the meantime, the Montgomery County Council has announced that it will conduct another joint oversight hearing Feb. 8 with its audit committee as well as the education and culture committee.
Council member Will Jawando (D-At Large), who chairs the education and culture committee, said Beidleman’s departure was “long overdue,” but there was still work to be done.
“We’ve made progress, but this didn’t start overnight,” Jawando said. “Are there other complaints in the school system that probably didn’t receive the attention that they probably should have? I think that’s absolutely true, given the many failures that are outlined in the IG report.”
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