The MCPS Board of Education met on Feb. 6 to discuss the countys future action plans.
The MCPS Board of Education met on Feb. 6 to discuss the county’s future action plans.
Bella Major

MCPS should commit to mending broken community relationship

From 2016 to 2023, Moco360 reported there were at least 18 reports of sexual misconduct, submitted to the Department of Compliance and Investigation about Joel Beidleman by staff members and parents detailing instances of threats, usage of sexual slurs, harassment, and many more cases of inappropriate conduct directed at students and staff members, and ranging over a decade across several middle school campuses. 

The Board’s response to these complaints? Promote him to oversee an even larger staff at Paint Branch High School and increase his salary by over $150K, according to Moco360. “Dr. Beidleman has been an outstanding leader, demonstrating unwavering commitment to students, staff, and families,” Jeanie Dawson, an MCPS Board Director said in a July 5 letter to the Farquhar Middle School community. The MCPS Board’s lack of action towards Beidleman’s misconduct sent a crystal-clear message to affected staff and students: we do not care.

I was ignored by this board. You got my emails and ignored them. You knew what was going on and stayed silent.

— Dawn Iannaco-Hahn

In a Board meeting on Feb. 6, 2024, Board president Karla Silvestre said, “We are deeply sorry for the pain that this has caused so many employees and the harm to this district.” After the Washington Post reported that MCPS deemed Beidleman’s repeated advances and abusive language directed at teachers “not in violation of MCPS’s sexual harassment policy,” after promising to schedule meetings with staff members who were victims of Beidleman’s harassment and never showing up, after hearing how Beidleman used sexual slurs against eighth-grade girls and taking no action, an apology in words is not even close to enough, and does not make up for the severity of the MCPS’s appalling handling of the case. It is essential that MCPS turns these apologies into action and demonstrates a substantial commitment to change.

MCPS must reform its reporting and action systems. Jackson Lewis, a Baltimore-based law firm, conducted an independent investigation into MCPS and the Department Of Compliance and Investigation (DCI)’s complaint filing system and handling of the Beidleman misconduct case. According to the Jackon Lewis report, which was first made public on Oct. 12, found that MCPS failed to brief all anonymous complaints.  While the DCI would receive numerous anonymous complaints from staff members, not a single one was reviewed due to a policy to not investigate anonymous complaints. According to DCI officials during the Feb. 6 BOE meeting, this policy is subject to change. However, the fact that there was even a policy in place instructing DCI workers to ignore anonymous complaints is utterly appalling and raises the question of how many harassment cases could have gone unheard.

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According to the Jackson Lewis report, five individuals were aware of the internal investigation of Beidleman’s misconduct and helped secure Beidleman’s promotion. Their names are not available in the heavily redacted report released to the public on Oct. 12. On Jan. 22, Moco360 reported that nine current and former top-level district officials stated that McKnight’s name appeared in some of the redacted blanks in the Jackson Lewis report. The lack of clarity on who knew about the severity of Beidleman’s case and still helped promote him has left many community members cautious about trusting MCPS again. 

“You have been successful in removing the previous superintendent but we need to know why,” Reverend Barry Moultrie said in a testimony to the Board on Feb. 6. “There have been enough innuendos released to the media for all of us to know that there is more to the story.” 

Although Beidleman’s misconduct spanned for over a decade, Moco360 reported that Beidleman was only placed on administrative leave in the summer of 2023, 16 days after an MCPS official learned about the investigation. Although common sense dictates that it is important to know if your boss is in a sexual harassment case, MCPS thought not and failed to notify staff members at Paint Branch High School of why Beidleman was put on leave. 

According to the Jackson Lewis report, the reason why Beidleman was only placed on leave 16 days after officials were made aware of his sexual misconduct. This came in response to Washington Post inquiries, according to Moco360.  The article released by The Washington Post prompted a wave of harsh scrutiny toward MCPS and assertive demands for change. “The only reason this scandal became public was due to the bravery of those who went to the press,” MCPS parent Dawn Iannaco-Hahn said in an emotional testimony on behalf of two of Biedelman’s victims who did not wish to speak publicly in a testimony to the BOE on Feb. 6.

In other words, MCPS only showed any kind of commitment to keeping their staff members safe and addressing Beidleman’s sexual misconduct when there was prominent media coverage of the situation, and the misconduct case could not be hidden from the public eye any longer. If The Washington Post had never covered the Beidleman case, perhaps MCPS would never have sent Beidleman on leave, and all those complaints and sexual misconduct reports against him would sit in the DCI’s office, gathering dust. MCPS’s blatantly irresponsible actions and overt lack of care for staff members have caused massive distrust between staff and community members and MCPS. 

“’I am a teacher, not a whistleblower, not a rebel. I just want to do what’s right. I’m trying to do what’s right. I was ignored by this Board. You got my emails and ignored them. You knew what was going on and stayed silent,’” Iannaco-Hahn said, quoting one of the teachers who did not wish to speak publicly.

There have been enough innuendos released to the media for all of us to know that there is more to the story.

— Reverend Barry Moultrie

There is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding what happened and who was involved. Committing to effective and explicit communication is one of the first and most important steps to improving a broken relationship. This starts at the Board level–members of the Board of Education must be informed and notified of misconduct and other issues promptly. As discussed in the Feb. 6 meeting, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gives the Board monthly sexual harassment reports. The Board has requested enhanced details on sexual harassment reports, rather than just the “bare bones.” This, alongside other changes MCPS BOE has mentioned they will be making, such as the newly formed anonymous complaint filing and addressing system, suggests that MCPS may be taking steps to prevent issues as severe as the Beidleman one from being unaddressed for so long. 

Still, MCPS has a long way to go in regaining the trust of the community, and doing the bare minimum of filing anonymous complaints and requesting more details of sexual harassment reports is simply not enough. When asked about the county’s future actions during a press conference on Feb. 6, interim superintendent Dr. Monique Felder said, “The plan is the follow the recommendations, period.” The vagueness of this blanket statement, along with the overall lack of clarity in what future steps will be taken at the Feb. 6 BOE meeting suggest that MCPS has an endlessly long way to go, and so far, their response to the Beidleman situation is, in a word, inadequate. MCPS needs to follow the DCI’s recommendations and inform the county during every step in the restoration process. There can not be any more secrets kept from the MCPS staff and community members. MCPS needs to pull itself together and show a sizable commitment to ensuring this level of deceit and inaction will never happen again.

This article was updated on March 7 to provide more accuracy to the situation and to correct misinformation.

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