Montgomery County Public Schools has tapped the Baltimore offices of the law firm of Jackson Lewis to conduct an independent investigation of sexual harassment allegations against a 12-year MCPS veteran principal and the district’s handling of the claims.
A statement from MCPS said the probe would move “with precision and speed … so that MCPS can implement appropriate action(s),” and promised that “our community will learn a significant amount of detail over the next few days and weeks.” It also noted Jackson Lewis’ familiarity with Maryland education and employment law.
The announcement came amid public calls for accountability after The Washington Post on Friday published an exposé on allegations against MCPS principal Joel Beidleman. On Aug. 4, Beidleman — who has served as principal at Farquhar, Roberto Clemente and Lakelands Park middle schools — was placed on extended administrative leave after Post reporters uncovered at least 18 reports of workplace abuse or harassment had been made against him by teachers and staff.
Beidleman denied the allegations to the Post. MoCo360 has been unable to contact him.
Several members of the County Council on Monday said they would be seeking accountability from MCPS and intend to ensure students and faculty are in a safe environment when school resumes Aug. 28. The council’s Education and Culture Committee will conduct a session on MCPS oversight, according to Michelle Whittaker, chief of staff for Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At-Large), chair of the committee. But that session won’t take place until the independent investigation is complete, she said Monday via email.
Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Jennifer Martin on Monday alleged that union members had alerted Superintendent Monifa McKnight and school board members about the allegations against Beidleman months before the accusations went public — but their cries fell on deaf ears.
“Unfortunately, MCPS leaders chose to dismiss or ignore the pleas of our members and the compelling evidence we provided,” Martin wrote in a statement. “Seeing that following MCPS’s processes was ineffective, our members then reached out directly to the superintendent and members of the MCPS Board of Education. Once again, their concerns were met with silence.”
Before being placed on leave, Beidleman was slated for a promotion to serve as principal of Paint Branch High School—a move the school board unanimously approved in June.
Snubbed by the board, Martin said she then encouraged teachers to turn to the media with their stories to get MCPS to take the allegations seriously. Martin suggested the flood of publicity on the Beidleman allegations could empower other union members to shed light on issues at their own worksites. She also urged the school district to revamp its reporting policies, writing:
“MCPS needs a comprehensive overhaul of MCPS’s harassment reporting policy. Over a decade ago, MCPS invested significant time and attention for several years in training school leadership teams, composed of both administrators, educators, and support professionals, in facilitative leadership. Such training is sorely needed.”
A spokesman for MCPS did not respond to a request for comment on Martin’s allegations.
On Monday, both school board president Karla Silvestre (At-large) and Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals (MCAAP) President Christine Handy did not respond to requests for comment on Beidleman or the pending investigation.
Paint Branch’s Parent-Teacher Association president, Carolyn Parker, on Monday wrote to MoCo360 demanding clearer oversight from the County Council, calling the tangible evidence in support of the Beidleman allegations “overwhelming” and referring to his promotion to the position at Paint Branch as “criminal.”
“I am VERY concerned […], and I have received many emails and texts from community members,” Parker emailed MoCo360 on Monday afternoon. “The amount of tangible evidence the Washington Post reported collected via texts and emails is overwhelming. The Farquhar teachers who dared to come forward should be commended.”
Parker specifically called out Jawando as chair of the Education and Culture Committee, asking, “What will [he] do to ensure better oversight of the matter and MCPS in general?”
In May, the County Council approved $3.165 billion in funding for MCPS—nearly half the county’s entire budget for next fiscal year, but still $74.3 million less than the school board’s initial request.
In an email to MoCo360, Whittaker said Jawando would not be commenting beyond a statement he released Friday in which he said, “MCPS should be clear with the County Council and the public about how this matter will be investigated and ensure that community members are aware of how they can report experiences that may be relevant to the investigation.”
Meanwhile, Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) on social media directed a constituent calling for council oversight to ask questions of the Education and Culture committee, which Jawando chairs.
“When I appointed members to the committee, each one expressed their strong interest in providing greater oversight and accountability to the school system,” Glass wrote.
Asked about this, Whittaker told MoCo360 that Jawando planned to hold a committee session; “however we must wait for the investigation to complete to hold a session.”
Glass said he was seeking a “fall” date for a committee session.
“I have spoken to Superintendent McKnight and members of the school board about this extremely troubling situation. … As MCPS conducts their investigation, I have requested that the Council’s Education and Culture Committee hold a hearing this fall to ensure additional oversight and transparency,” Glass wrote.
“MCPS must provide information to the Council and the public about the action it will take to foster an environment where all individuals are treated with respect and are free from all forms of harassment or discrimination.”
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large), who sits on the education committee, said in an interview that he has many questions for MCPS, but he feels the investigation will be needed to answer many of them. Albornoz said he is expecting more information from MCPS within “days and weeks.”
“We know how seriously [MCPS] is taking this matter as well. But we will just have to see where this investigation goes, and follow up,” Albornoz said. “We want the investigation to be comprehensive and review every aspect of this incident. Transparency is very important. This is a priority for the entire council.”
In an interview, Councilmember Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5), who sits on the education committee, said while she expects the investigation will take time, the county needs to act now.
“With school starting soon, there are conversations and changes that need to be made as soon as possible so that staff and students can feel safe returning to school,” Mink said. “There are some things that will need to wait for investigations. But my hope is that there are some changes which can be put in place now to mitigate what is clearly an untenable situation.”
Mink said she is unsure of the timeline for MCPS’ investigation, but the situation needs to be prioritized and addressed “as soon as possible” to prioritize the safety of students and faculty. And while Mink said the council has limited oversight authority over MCPS, the council does oversee the school district’s budget.
“There is information that we need to be able to make responsible decisions about the budget. And so knowing how those dollars are spent to provide a safe and secure learning environment and teaching environments – that’s important information for us on the council,” Mink said.
MCPS officials reportedly have asked the county’s Inspector General to investigate the matter as well. The Inspector General on Monday declined to comment.
The Montgomery County Police Department is not currently involved in any investigation related to the allegations, public information officer Shiera Goff said in response to an inquiry from MoCo360.
“My understanding is that this case involves sexual harassment, which would not be investigated by police,” Goff wrote in an email. “I’m not aware of any criminal charges filed against Beidleman.”
The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment.