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Council makes it clear: School system must be fixed

by Judith Hruz


County Councilwoman Dawn Luedtke, whose councilmanic District 7 includes Farquhar Middle School in Olney, where Dr. Joel Beidleman worked and employees allegedly left their jobs because of his bullying and sexual harassment, made it clear to Board of Education President Karla Silvestre that she wants action, not plans or promises, to restore trust among staff, students and parents of Montgomery County Public Schools.

During a Feb. 8 hearing of the council’s Audit and Education and Culture committees — the first such opportunity to gather the council, members of the school board, MCPS leaders and the county inspector general for a frank question-and-answer session of the situation and how it was handled – Luedtke and other councilmembers reiterated their concern that such behavior could have taken place in a school system touted as world-class.

Luedtke, whose children attend Farquhar, had asked for an impartial investigation into the complaints leveled against Beidleman that came to light during an August story in The Washington Post.

County Councilman Evan Glass (D-At large) had joined Luedtke in asking for that investigation.

When the county’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued the report on Jan. 24, Glass and Luedtke issued the following statement:

“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.”

The inspector general’s 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” and

Deficiencies in the district’s handling of complaints, that were previously identified, have not been addressed.


School system must get back to trust and accountability


“Trust” and “accountability” were among the key words reiterated at the Feb. 8 hearing.

Councilwoman Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4), chair of the Audit Committee, said the OIG report “unearthed disturbing findings,” and that particularly disturbing is that the same problems and deficiencies have been raised for several years.

The councilmembers reiterated the need to clean up a culture that has been pervasive – one of protecting the school system instead of making difficult decisions.

Council President Andrew Friedson said it seems that the school system’s behavior has been more on protecting the school system than on the people who work for the school system.”

From here on out, “everything that we do here rides on us getting this right.”

Silvestre, who answered the council questions but was accompanied in the hearing room by all other members of the Board of Education, said the school board approved Beidleman’s promotion to principal of Paint Branch High School on June 27, but did not know he was under investigation for harassment and bullying complaints until about Aug. 4.

She said members of the school systems administration knew he was under investigation while he was being promoted.. Silvestre did not name those administrators.

The first time the Board of Education ever received a large-scale briefing on the Beidleman situation was Sept. 8, Silvestre said.

Silvestre admitted that more must be done to take care of the staff and students of MCPS.

“We need and must do better,” she said.

She then gave what appeared to be a solemn apology.

“We are deeply sorry for the pain that this has caused,” she said.

“We understand that something has been broken at MCPS,” she added, saying the school system must return to delivering quality education.


    The County Council will receive an update from the Board of Education on April 23.


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