MCPS parents speak out about principal accused of sexual harassment, opt out policies at board meeting

Emotions were running high at the Montgomery County School Board meeting Thursday, with those in attendance focusing on two big issues: The investigation of a principal who is facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and the fight over allowing parents to opt their kids out of reading any sexually inclusive materials. 

Board members got an earful from many parents demanding more accountability and transparency on the district’s investigation into a principal who was promoted in June despite multiple sexual harassment allegations made against him. 

The board said nothing — and did nothing — in regard to former Farquhar Middle School Principal Joel Beidleman, who is now the subject of 18 reports of sexual harassment and bullying. 

The ongoing scandal was not on the board’s agenda but that didn’t stop parents today from taking the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting and blasting the board over how it’s handled the reporting of the allegations and its investigation now into them.

"This board promoted a man who’s sexually harassed and bullied and staff at not one but several schools and who was inappropriate with students,"  said MCPS parent Dawn Iannaco-Hahn. "MCPS has been sweeping things under the rug and on the shelf for years. You’ve put your self-interest and elitist reputation while not protecting and supporting students and staff for decades."

The board has been the subject of harsh criticism from parents and teachers who say MCPS should not have hired its own law firm to investigate its actions, as calls have grown for the county Inspector General to take over the probe.

"Parents don’t trust you. Older wiser students have figured out they can't trust you and staff, they are afraid that if they speak out they will lose their jobs. No one should ever have to be afraid of their employer," Iannaco-Hahn continued.

But the sexual harassment case isn't the only controversy the school district is facing. 

"Here is what we should be talking about way before sexual orientation to children under 12. We cannot even get our teacher's disciplinary protocol under control," said parent Tara Grier. "You want equity and you want inclusion but you want it on your terms. That’s not how this works. Your family dynamic should not dictate what my child hears at school."

Supporters and opponents of the board’s move to block parents from "opting out" of reading sexually inclusive materials and books also came to the meeting to sound off.  A group of 6th Republican congressional candidates signed a pledge supporting parents who want to opt-out. 

"A parental rights pledge means that these congressional candidates are actually for parents and that they are for freedom," said Lindsey Smith with Montgomery County Moms For Liberty. "They are for freedom of speech of the parents and not to silence the parent but here in agreement to actually listen to the parents." 

But others say the inclusive books should stay.

"Having diverse LGBTQ representation is extremely important for our young people. For people to be able to see themselves into adulthood," said Phillp Alexander Downie.

While the meeting was underway, a key court ruling was released, stating that MCPS does not have to provide parents with the "opt-out" option. 

In Mahmoud v. McKnight, parental rights advocates filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, essentially asking the court to put a pause on MCPS’ "no opt-out" policy, forcing the district to give parents the right to stop their kids from reading materials they find objectionable. 

The ruling signals that the judge believes the plaintiffs are unlikely to win their case on its merits — which are based on the argument that their children reading books featuring LGBTQ themes would "contradict their sincerely held religious beliefs."

In the opinion, the judge wrote that "every court that has addressed the question has concluded that the mere exposure in public school to ideas that contradict religious beliefs does not burden the religious exercise of students or parents." 

It went on to say that "the mere exposure to ideas in public school did not burden religious exercise because (1) students were not required to behave contrary to their faiths or affirm any views contrary to their religious beliefs, and (2) parents were not prevented from discussing and contextualizing any contrary views at home."

Montgomery County Public Schools released a statement following the decision, saying:  

"Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a decision declining the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have required Montgomery County Public Schools to allow families to opt out of engagement with LGBTQ+ inclusive texts during English Language Arts instruction. The judge also denied the request for an injunction pending appeal.

The ruling states, "Public schools are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student violate his or her faith during classroom instruction." (page 46)

The decision comes after plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction in June and following a hearing on August 9 before District Judge Deborah L. Boardman. 

MCPS remains committed to cultivating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment and creating opportunities where all students see themselves and their families in curriculum materials. We also will continue to adhere to our responsibility to include instructional materials that reflect the diversity of the local and global community by exploring the aspirations, issues, and achievements of women and men, people with disabilities, people from diverse racial, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, as well as those of diverse gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation." 


Protestors flock to MCPS school board meeting over opt-out policy

Demonstrators turned out in large numbers Tuesday at the Montgomery County School Board meeting over a proposal that would prohibit parents from opting their children out of classes and books addressing topics related to sexuality and gender.

But the opt-out controversy isn't over yet. Lawyers for the parents announced that they will appeal this decision.

"Parents know and love their children best; that’s why all kids deserve to have their parents help them understand issues like gender identity and sexuality. The School Board’s decision to cut parents out of these discussions flies in the face of parental freedom, childhood innocence, and basic human decency," attorney Eric Baxter said in a statement. 

"The court’s decision is an assault on children’s right to be guided by their parents on complex and sensitive issues regarding human sexuality. The School Board should let kids be kids and let parents decide how and when to best educate their own children consistent with their religious beliefs."