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by Judith Hruz
The Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent said she is being forced out of her job, county elected officials said they deserve more information, and parents are wondering when the school year will get back to normal and someone will step up and be accountable – all in the shadow of how harassment complaints filed against the former principal of Farquhar Middle School were handled by MCPS leaders.
And the man who ignited the story that began when the harassment complaints came to light last August – former principal Dr. Joel Beidleman – is no longer employed by the school system. He was on administrative leave since last August, but was no longer an employee as of Jan. 24.
On that same day, the Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report on how the harassment and bullying complaints were handled, citing inadequate handling of the complaints.
The report lists five major areas of concern:
The district does not have a comprehensive protocol to address the receipt, evaluation, tracking and disposition of complaints.
MCPS Department of Compliance and Investigations (DCI) does not follow defined criteria for determining what actions to take with complaints.
DCI does not have comprehensive policies for conducting and documenting investigations.
Lack of evidence in electronic case files that DCI “consistently followed sound investigative practices.”
Deficiencies in the district’s handling of complaints, that were previously identified, have not been addressed.
Montgomery County Councilmembers Evan Glass (D-At large) and Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7), who had asked for an impartial investigation by the OIG months ago, issued the following statement after the report was released:
“We acknowledge and thank the Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General for its report, which found numerous issues with how MCPS handles and investigates complaints of employee misconduct. The report found four instances since 2019 in which the school system was notified of deficiencies in these processes, received recommendations for improvement and failed to take corrective action. This culture of non-compliance is unacceptable and deprives students, educators and staff of the safe learning and working environment they deserve.
“We and the public still have unanswered questions about the promotion process of Dr. Joel Beidleman, questions that must be answered to have full accountability and transparency within our school system. The public’s trust has been eroded and the school board must commit itself to leading with transparency and accountability.
“After three investigative reports by the inspector general and a Board of Education-commissioned report by the Jackson Lewis law firm, it is time for the school board to take decisive action.
“We respect the role of the duly elected school board and urge them to act swiftly to bring closure to this matter.”
The Board of Education thanked Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi for undertaking the investigation following consultation with the board upon receipt of the Jackson Lewis report in September.
“Today, we acknowledge that the school system has much work to do,” according to the school board’s statement. “As a board, we will work with the MCPS senior leadership to make these changes a priority. The Board of Education has already taken personnel actions and will continue to hold those responsible for the systemic failures to account. We will be bringing in a team of external experts to help us ensure we are implementing best practices going forward. In addition, we will continue our work to review and revise policies to help strengthen our reporting structures and processes.
“As a board, we are committed to transparency and building a stronger and better school system for all students. We will heal our system, restore trust and build a strong oversight infrastructure. Our goal is to ensure that we provide a safe and healthy educational environment in which everyone in MCPS can thrive.”
Earlier in the week, the Board of Education would not comment on assertions from Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight, who said the board has asked her to step down from her position. The school board cited confidentiality in a personnel matter.
McKnight said she would fight her removal, saying the board “has never written, documented or communicated any concern about my performance, and through the evaluation process has consistently affirmed that I have met expectations.”
She said she will defend her reputation and her decades-long commitment to the students and families of MCPS.
In her reaction to the OIG report, McKnight said the report “represents an important step toward updating and modernizing processes, policies and procedures to better align them with MCPS values — and most importantly so no one within the MCPS family ever has to endure unchecked abuse, harassment, bullying or retaliation again.
“I am fully in alignment with the OIG’s recommendations, many of which I have already been working with my team to address by implementing dozens of corrective actions over the last several months — and I appreciate the OIG for acknowledging that progress in today’s report. I shared updates on that work both in October and earlier this week, outlining the progress that’s been made. But we still have important work ahead, which we will do in collaboration with Board of Education leaders, the County Council and the OIG’s office — who have remained important and trusted partners throughout this process — as we finalize the comprehensive corrective action plan that the board directed me to develop last year.”
County Executive Marc Elrich said he is “not very happy with the way this thing is being handled,” referring to McKnight’s comments that the Board of Education has asked her to leave her post.
During his weekly media briefing on Jan. 24, he said the school board had not shared any information on the matter with him.
He called the OIG report “distressing” and said he had hoped for more specific information “on who did what” or “who decided to act or not act.”
I was hoping we’d get some clarity on that,” Elrich said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions here.”
The Montgomery County’s Audit and Education Committees will meet jointly at 3 p.m. Feb. 8 to conduct an oversight hearing about the findings in the OIG report.
“The council will continue to push for the increased accountability and transparency from MCPS that our educators and families deserve. Additionally, we will work with the Board of Education and MCPS leadership to ensure that identified deficiencies are addressed in a timely and comprehensive manner,” said County Council President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), Vice President and Audit Committee Chair Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4)
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