A school principal in Maryland has been accused of engaging in misconduct and violating Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) sexual harassment and workplace bullying policies, a months-long investigation by the Montgomery County Maryland Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded.
Montgomery County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi said in a report released on Nov. 29 that witnesses described Joel Beidleman as “a divisive figure” while he served as the principal of Farquhar Middle School in Olney.
“Many of those that cooperated with the investigation provided examples of instances where Beidleman yelled, screamed, and berated them, or otherwise behaved in an unprofessional manner, to include retaliating against them,” Ms. Limarzi wrote.
“Current and former staff members also provided examples of occasions where Beidleman commented on female staff members’ appearances, made remarks of a sexual nature to female subordinates, and pursued MCPS employees for sex,” she added.
However, the report also outlined other witnesses who viewed Mr. Beidleman as “a mentor and innovative leader.”
As part of the investigation, the OIG interviewed dozens of witnesses who had information related to Mr. Beidleman’s alleged misconduct, and 15 of those individuals claimed to be victims of sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation, or other violations of the school’s codes of conduct, as well as potential violations of federal and local laws.
Mr. 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,” the report said.
The probe also found that because of Mr. Beidleman’s behavior, some staff members reported being afraid to disagree with him due to fear of repercussions, were concerned about their job security, and felt intimidated and disrespected.
Officials launched the probe after an article published by The Washington Post on Aug. 11 reported that MCPS was poised to promote Mr. Beidleman to the position of principal of Paint Branch High School despite many complaints against him for possible sexual harassment.
The OIG said it analyzed data from several complaints and found that MCPS received a total of 17 complaints related to Mr. Beidleman’s alleged misconduct before the article was published.
Another 11 employees reported being bullied by Mr. Beidleman, dating as far back as 2018, saying he “yelled and screamed” at teachers and created a work environment where staff members were afraid to voice their professional disagreement.
“The complainants’ experiences left them feeling anxious, afraid, stressed, intimidated, disrespected, and worried about their job security,” the report states, noting the former principal’s “pervasive, repeated, deliberate, and hurtful mistreatment of subordinates altered the conditions of his subordinate’s working environment.”
Mr. Beidleman was placed on “extended leave” after The Washington Post reached out regarding sexual assault allegations, FOX5 DC reported.
Education Board Responds
The results of the investigation have been passed on to Superintendent Monifa McKnight, who said in a statement on Dec. 1 that she will take “swift” and “decisive” action in response to the case.
The Montgomery County Board of Education, meanwhile, announced in a statement on Dec. 1 that they’re committed to using the OIG’s work “as a catalyst for thorough systemic reform and enhanced accountability.”
Statement from the Montgomery County Board of Education pic.twitter.com/3zWr4PNFHp
— Moco BOE (@mocoboe) December 1, 2023
“The Board of Education 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. The Board thanks the Inspector General for the work of her and her team,” it stated.
Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando—who is also chair of the Education and Culture Committee—also responded to the OIG’s investigation in a statement on Dec. 1, applauding the watchdog’s “thorough investigation” while also expressing appreciation for the people who submitted information or participated in interviews with the OIG.
“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,” Mr. Jawando said.
“Rebuilding trust and repairing the harm that teachers and students have experienced will take time,” he added. “I am committed to ensuring MCPS implements new policies with fidelity and accountability along with better communication to the school community.”