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Inspector general report confirms harassment against former principal

by Judith Hruz

Editor

The Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General confirmed this month that the former middle school principal accused of harassment did engage in incidents of misconduct.

In a news release issued Dec. 1, Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi announced the release of a Memorandum of Investigation (MOI) titled “Investigation of Misconduct Allegations Against Dr. Joel Beidleman” that detailed the results of the investigation into the allegations that Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) employee Beidleman engaged in misconduct while serving as principal of Farquhar Middle School in Olney.

The investigation substantiated allegations that Beidleman made repeated comments about the appearance of female subordinates, directed offensive comments and jokes of a sexual nature at subordinates, bullied subordinates, and had a sexual relationship with a subordinate over whom he had supervisory responsibility.

According to the investigation, Beidleman’s behavior created an environment where some staff members reported being afraid to disagree with him on professional matters, worried about their job security, and felt intimidated and disrespected.

Beidleman’s conduct violated MCPS’s sexual harassment and workplace bullying policies and MCPS’s Employee Code of Conduct. The results of the investigation have been referred to the superintendent of schools, Dr. Monifa McKnight, for whatever action she deems appropriate.

“As I’ve said since this issue came to our attention this summer, I will take swift, decisive action based on investigative findings,” McKnight said in a statement following the inspector general’s report. “Now that the OIG has referred this matter to me, I am moving forward without delay to ensure that wrongdoing is held to full account.

“It is crucial that every MCPS employee, student and parent know that any type of abusive behavior will not be tolerated. It’s why I’ve been working diligently with my team — joined by a diverse group of local and national experts, staff and other critical stakeholders from across the MCPS community — in developing and implementing our aggressive and comprehensive action plan: To rebuild trust, ensure no one is failed by our system, and to make clear that harassment, bullying, intimidation, and retaliation have absolutely no place in the MCPS community. Ensuring a safe and positive work environment for our staff means a safe and positive environment for our students to learn, and that is our main focus and commitment.”

The Board of Education released a statement that it “will put policies and systems in place that nurture and support a culture of respect where employees feel safe and confident that complaints or concerns will be addressed.”

This investigation is one of two MCPS related engagements announced by the inspector general on Sept. 20.. The second engagement, a review of MCPS’s process for receiving and responding to allegations of misconduct by school system employees, is still in process.

Following a Washington Post investigation that revealed that at least 18 reports of sexual harassment, bullying and retaliation had been made by MCPS educators against Beidleman, who had served as principal of Farquhar Middle School before being named principal of Paint Branch High School in June — a position that was rescinded — the county school system hired the law firm of Jackson Lewis, of Baltimore, that specializes in employment law.

School officials asked the law firm to investigate the allegations against Beidleman and how he was given a promotion. His salary at Paint Branch would have been close to $200,000, an increase of approximately $32,000.

But MCPS has hired Jackson Lewis on other occasions, and some county government officials want a more independent investigation.

Then-County Council President Evan Glass (D-At large) and County Councilwoman Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7), whose district includes Farquhar, sent a letter to Richard P. Henry, the inspector general in the Office of the Inspector General for Education for the State of Maryland, and Limarzi, the inspector general for Montgomery County, requesting that their offices investigate how MCPS handled the reported allegations against Beidleman.

After requests from the elected officials to allow an independent investigation into the harassment allegations, the county Board of Education confirmed it would address concerns after the completion of the fact-finding investigation conducted by its hired law firm.

Jackson Lewis submitted the “Full Investigation Report,” as it was titled, to the Board of Education on Sept. 8.

County Councilmember Will Jawando (At-Large), chair of the Education and Culture (EC) Committee, applauded the Office of Inspector General for “conducting a thorough investigation and appreciate the individuals who submitted information or participated in interviews with the OIG.”

He added, “As chair of the Education and Culture Committee, we will be following up on this report with the Board of Education and MCPS leadership through oversight hearings in the coming months. The OIG is completing an additional investigation into the policies and procedures related to promotions.

“Rebuilding trust and repairing the harm that teachers and students have experienced will take time. I am committed to ensuring MCPS implements new policies with fidelity and accountability along with better communication to the school community.”

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