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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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May 21, 2024

What we know about former Paint Branch principal’s harassment and misconduct allegations

The teachers — Argyle Middle School teacher Hajur El-Haggan, Westland Middle School teacher Anike Robinson and Takoma Park Middle School teacher Angela Wolf — had previously been placed on administrative leave for expressing alleged antisemitism regarding the Israel-Hamas war on social media and within an internal email signature.

On Aug. 4, MCPS wrote an email to the Paint Branch High School community stating that the newly promoted Principal Joel Beidleman would be placed on extended leave, a decision coinciding with the publication of a Washington Post exposé on Beidleman.

Over seven years, school staff filed 18 accusations of harassment against Beidleman — the most recent occurring in 2023. Last week, one educator filed a lawsuit against both MCPS and Beidleman, alleging discrimination and a hostile work environment. 

Before his Paint Branch promotion, Beidleman served as the assistant principal of Roberto Clemente Middle School and Lakelands Park Middle School. Later, MCPS officials promoted him to the principal of Farquhar Middle School and, subsequently, the principal of Paint Branch.

In the Post’s article, interviewees alleged Beidleman made multiple sexual comments towards fellow educators, including some with graphic and disturbing details. One anonymous Farquhar staff member alleged that Beidleman told her to “shave your p—- and sell the hair.” The educator who recently filed the suit against MCPS and Beidleman alleged that he questioned her after observing over a camera feed that a male colleague had been in her room. She also claimed to have screenshots from her phone that showed Beidleman telling her to “come be with me” at 3 a.m. in a hotel room. According to further interviews by The Post, even some Farquhar staff who haven’t alleged harassment by Beidleman said that “he is the most vindictive person I’ve ever met,” and “even teachers who left Farquhar are scared to this day.”   

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At least nine staff members transferred schools in direct response to his behavior, and another took extended leave. The alleged incidents of harassment include phone calls and text messages corroborated by mobile phone records, according to interviews by The Post.

Parents interviewed by The Post also raised concerns about misconduct with students. One parent alleged that Beidleman told her eighth-grader, in private, “Don’t be like [your friend]. She’s a whore.” During an assembly, attendees schoolwide also alleged that Beidleman said the girls at Farquhar dressed “like hos and thots.”

Beidleman has denied each claim against him, asserting that they have either been taken out of context or are outright false.

The Post also detailed the accounts of interviewees who alleged that, in at least one instance, the MCPS-appointed investigator was a self-described “personal friend” of Beidleman. 

Following the Post’s reporting, community members turned their attention to possible failures by county officials to investigate Beidleman’s conduct before his promotion.

In response to the recent scrutiny, the Montgomery County Board of Education hired the law firm Jackson Lewis to audit MCPS’ management of Beidleman’s investigation. 

The firm delivered its findings to the Board of Education on Sept. 9, and the Board released a four-page summary. The audit “found significant and troubling failures by senior management in MCPS,” the Board wrote. Six days after Jackson Lewis turned in its report, the Montgomery County inspector general’s office announced the launching of investigations into Beidleman’s conduct and potential lapses by MCPS officials.

On Sept. 28, the Montgomery County Council held a hearing during which council members questioned Board President Karla Silvestre and Superintendent Monifa McKnight on the need for transparency. Council member Will Jawando pressured school officials to release the full Jackson Lewis report, though McKnight said her offices are obligated to protect witnesses and confidential personnel information.

 “We release redacted things all the time,” Jawando said during the hearing. “All the names can be blotted out. We’ve had to do that here at the Council on very sensitive matters related to boards under our authority.” 

McKnight acknowledged that there is more to do to refine the processes in place, she said.

“We must have processes that are buttoned up tight,” McKnight said, “and most importantly, guarded to protect the interests of the children and the students in the school system.”

Whitman English teacher Cody Therrien said MCPS staff learned of the news about Beidleman upon returning to work this August, and he wanted to know more about the follow-up investigations.

“Was it determined that they weren’t legitimate allegations, or were they just swept under the carpet?” Therrien said. “I don’t understand how he could have gotten promoted without a lot of very powerful people in central office okaying it and looking past this.”

On Oct. 7, The Post published a story on the continuing developments of the Beidleman situation, including alleged misconduct by Khalid Walker, who was in charge of investigating the reports of sexual harassment during his time at the Department of Compliance and Investigations.

Walker recently changed his MCPS biography page to state that he was now the acting assistant general counsel, which MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram verified. Cram also mentioned that after claiming the new title, Walker received an almost $12,000 raise.

Less than 24 hours later, Cram informed a reporter from The Post that Walker was now in a special assignment position within the office of Human Resources and Development and would be working at his previous salary.

Amid the news of Walker’s position changes, community members were disdainful, with one person telling The Post that the chain of promotions “shows a complete disregard and disrespect for the situation and for the victims.”

On Oct. 13, Jennifer Martin, the President of the Montgomery County Education Association, sent an email to her fellow union members detailing the views of the organization.

 “The release of the report by Jackson Lewis on MCPS’s profoundly flawed investigation and ill-considered promotion of Joel Beidleman confirms what MCEA members have long known: MCPS leadership has an established pattern of ignoring instances of bullying and abuse by principals and instead provides cover and excuses for school leaders who commit such offenses,” Martin wrote in the email.

At the same time that the MCEA statement came out, The Post published another follow-up about the tampering of the redacted Jackson Lewis report by an unnamed person and pointed out major failures through inaction by the county during the investigation.

The Post highlights a part of the Jackson Lewis report which talks about the fact that Beidleman was put on leave because of the negative media attention generated by his misconduct instead of the misconduct itself. The Jackson Lewis report found that a central office staff member had falsified parts of the Beidleman investigation, The Post wrote. According to the report, there was “a preponderance of evidence” to support the claim of a staff member who alleged sexual harassment against Beidleman. However, the file on the allegation was changed “to reflect that there was not enough evidence to substantiate” it, the report said.

In response to the coverage the county has received on its mishandling of Beidleman’s promotion, the MCPS Board of Education announced that it plans to completely revamp the promotion process. 

The plan, titled “A Framework for Change at MCPS,” ensures that no one under investigation will be considered for a promotion. It also will create more comprehensive background checks that officials must confirm the accuracy of for the Board of Education and Superintendent.

McKnight shared her optimism for the plan in an email to MCPS staff members.

Progress in the nine identified streams of work, from how reporting occurs to how investigations are conducted, will move us forward on our shared journey toward a safe and welcoming work environment for employees,” McKnight said. “We are committed to actively listening to our staff members, valuing every voice and concern.”

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About the Contributor
Griffin Haber, News Writer
Grade 11 Why did you join the Black and White? I joined the Black and White to give people the information they need to make their own opinions. What is your favorite board game? Risk

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