New report reveals ‘troubling failures’ in promotion of Montgomery Co. principal

The summary of a new report concludes that leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland, knew a principal was under investigation for possible sexual harassment when they promoted him.

The report, put together by Baltimore-based law firm Jackson Lewis at the request of the county’s board of education, found failures by senior management.

A letter, summarizing the report’s findings, said Joel Beidleman was promoted to become the principal of Paint Branch High School while he was being investigated because “key decision makers did not exercise enough diligence to ascertain important details about the investigation.”

The letter with a summary of the report’s findings was released on the board’s social media account.

How Montgomery County leaders are responding

In a letter to school leadership, Karla Silvestre, Montgomery County Board of Education president, said the report findings “detail significant and troubling failures by senior management in MCPS.”

Superintendent Monifa McKnight said in a statement to WTOP that she’s working closely with her team to review the findings.

“In the coming days, I’ll be announcing a series of swift and immediate actions I’ll be prepared to take to ensure accountability. I will also be working closely with my team to develop a comprehensive corrective action plan, as directed by the Board.”

Montgomery County Executive March Elrich said that the report is troubling because it shows failures by the senior management in promoting Beidleman to principal of Paint Branch High School despite claims about possible sexual harassment.

“It fits with the pattern that a lot of people believe this is not the first time that this has happened,” Elrich told WTOP.

His fear he said is that ignoring issues at the school leadership level has happened before.

“The teachers made a point of having submitted complaints a while ago,” Elrich said.

He thinks that the process of the way Montgomery County Public Schools investigates claims needs to change.

“You’re investigating the system covering itself up with a law firm that has historically represented the system,” Elrich said. “There’s a certain amount of distrust.”

What does the report say?

The report summary said multiple members of the administration, who were part of the promotion process, knew that Beidleman was under an active investigation at the time of his promotion, but those officials “did not inquire about the specific nature of the allegations against Beidleman including their disposition.”

The letter also said those same administrators “failed to take any remedial action or promptly notify the Board once they knew specific details about the allegations.”

The report summary said key members of the school system’s leadership learned details about the investigation by July 19 but did not share that information with the board of education until Aug. 4.

The summary letter also suggests the school system promotion process does not have a mechanism to automatically identify whether a candidate for a promotion or a transfer is under investigation.

The report was also critical of the processes in place that allows someone to be promoted while under investigation. The letter said that these findings can be used by the school system to “develop a comprehensive corrective action plan.”

In addition, the report found that the school system did not formally investigate multiple anonymous complaints it received due to “long-standing practices and processes” that limited the school’s investigation only to “formal complaints,” meaning those that had been submitted on the proper paperwork.

The report concluded: “Many of those anonymous complaints contained sufficient details to enable MCPS to initiate a formal investigation.”

As many as 39 people including teachers in schools where Beidleman worked, accused him of bullying and sexual harassment, according to a Washington Post report.

The Jackson Lewis report authors said investigators interviewed nearly 60 current and former employees and collected more than 30,000 documents.

WTOP’s Cheyenne Corin and Valerie Bonk contributed to this post.

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Kyle Cooper

Weekend and fill-in anchor Kyle Cooper has been with WTOP since 1992. Over those 25 years, Kyle has worked as a street reporter, editor and anchor. Prior to WTOP, Kyle worked at several radio stations in Indiana and at the Indianapolis Star Newspaper.

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