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The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

The official student newspaper of Walter Johnson High School

The Pitch

Superintendent under fire

Board allegedly asked McKnight to resign; McKnight defends reputation against claims of “corruption, malfeasance”
MCPS+Superintendent+Dr.+Monifa+McKnight+listens+to+testimony+during+a+Board+of+Education+budget+hearing+on+Jan.+25+as+President+of+the+Board+Karla+Silvestre+presides.+Officers+of+the+Board%2C+including+Silvestre%2C+allegedly+asked+McKnight+to+resign+the+week+prior.
Abby Kee
MCPS Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight listens to testimony during a Board of Education budget hearing on Jan. 25 as President of the Board Karla Silvestre presides. Officers of the Board, including Silvestre, allegedly asked McKnight to resign the week prior.

MCPS Superintendent of Schools Dr. Monifa McKnight has come under fire for allegations of knowingly promoting a principal accused of sexual harassment and bullying. According to a statement released by McKnight on Monday, Jan. 22, the Board of Education has asked her to resign. But, McKnight added that she has done no wrong, and therefore intends to fight the Board on the alleged campaign to oust her.

The Board has neither confirmed nor denied asking McKnight to resign; however, in the span of two weeks between Jan. 18 and Feb. 2, the Board met six times in closed session to “discuss and consider a personnel matter regarding the status of employment for an employee.” Although McKnight is legally an employee of the Board, given the large amount of personnel matters the Board handles, McKnight was not necessarily the subject of any or all of the closed-session meetings. The Board would not confirm if McKnight was discussed due to privacy laws.

 

Sexual assault allegations against Principal Joel Beidleman draw headlines

Much of McKnight’s troubles stem from former Farquhar Middle School Principal Dr. Joel Beidleman. Upon McKnight’s recommendation, Beidleman was unanimously promoted by the Board to be Paint Branch High School’s principal last July. However, when it became obvious to MCPS that the Washington Post was due to publish an exposé on Beidleman, Beidleman was placed on leave on Aug. 4, 2023.

Allegations against Beidleman, detailed in the aforementioned Post article, described a general reputation for bullying, misconduct and inappropriate behavior. In the case of one teacher, who filed a complaint with MCPS in February 2023, he told her “you should just f— me,” asked to meet her at the Gaithersburg Hilton at 11:30 p.m, called her repeatedly past 3:00 a.m. and transferred her to a different grade when he became jealous of her relationship with another male colleague.
Beidleman also had poor and inappropriate interactions with students. These included calling a student a “whore,” calling female students alone into his office to ask about what they were wearing and calling out students at an assembly for dressing like “hoes and thots.”

Dr. Joel L. Beidleman was appointed Paint Branch High School principal by the Board of Education in July before allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct came out. Since then, the Board, MCPS and Superintendent Monifa McKnight have been under scrutiny for allowing Beidleman to be promoted. (Courtesy MCPS)

Such stories, both with teachers and students, did not appear to be one-off cases but instead were examples of a longstanding culture and tradition of misconduct. Former employees described Beidleman’s leadership style as a “culture of fear,” and many teachers chose not to speak out for fear of retaliation by Beidleman.

Beidleman denied the claims to the Post in August. On Dec. 18, 2023, Beidleman stopped receiving pay, and as of Jan. 24, Beidleman no longer works for MCPS. However, It is unclear if MCPS officially fired Beidleman or if he resigned, and if he had received any severance or financial incentive to do so.

 

Multiple reports examine extent of MCPS and McKnight’s knowledge

Further complicating the situation, Khalid Walker, the MCPS official charged with investigating the February 2023 complaint regarding Beidleman, claims that in July, he was asked by his superiors to reverse the finding of MCPS’s internal inquiry to exonerate Beidleman. Walker claims that after he spoke to outside investigators about the change, he was retaliated against by being moved to what MCPS called a “special assignment position” in the Office of Human Resources and Development. Walker has since been restored to his former position.

When the claims against Beidleman were first revealed, MCPS also came under fire from the community for choosing law firm Jackson Lewis to conduct an “external” investigation of Beidleman and how he was allowed to be promoted. Jackson Lewis had a preexisting relationship with MCPS, and MCPS had paid the firm $110,000 in the two years prior, posing a potential conflict of interest.

McKnight also likely knew about the claims against Beidleman during the promotion process, many former and current central office staff alleged. According to the Jackson Lewis report, the Inspector General of Education reached out to MCPS in June about Beidleman.

“That would not have been kept from her. That’s a big deal,” an anonymous former central office staff member said to MoCo360.

Many parts of the Jackson Lewis report were redacted when it was released due to privacy laws. However, nine different current and former MCPS senior officials told Moco360 that McKnight’s name was part of the redactions, including where the report referenced an employee who knew about the Beidleman investigation but did not inform the Board.

Reporting by MoCo360 also revealed that Monifa McKnight and Beidleman had long been friends, dating back to when both were middle school principals. One former MCPS official claimed that the two attended happy hours together during the 2012-13 school year and participated in excessive drinking and inappropriate sexual jokes. McKnight and Beidleman also remained friends after McKnight became superintendent.

MCPS is also the subject of a lawsuit regarding Beidleman. A former Farquhar Middle School teacher using the pseudonym “Jane Doe” filed a civil lawsuit in October against Beidleman and MCPS for the abuse and the hostile work environment MCPS fostered.

More generally, a report by the Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General released on Jan. 24 detailed numerous problems with MCPS’s system of handling reports of misconduct. A joint public hearing with the Montgomery County Council Audit Committee and Education and Culture Committee has been scheduled for Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. to review the Inspector General’s findings.

 

McKnight asked to resign, future uncertain

Given all of the trouble surrounding MCPS and McKnight’s handling of Beidleman, McKnight claims that she was asked to resign by the Board during the week of Jan. 15-19. Members of the Board would not comment on McKnight. However, McKnight expressed that she would not resign voluntarily.

“The Board has never written, documented, or communicated any concern about my performance … I will defend my reputation and my decades-long commitment to the students and families of MCPS,” McKnight said in her statement.
McKnight continued working with the Board throughout the week after being asked to resign, working in a Board budget session on Jan. 23 and participating in a public budget hearing on Jan. 25. At both events, protestors were seen supporting McKnight. Board President Karla Silvestre responded to public calls for more communication about McKnight’s status by referring to privacy laws on personnel matters.

“We’re gonna try and communicate as much as possible going forward. Again, I really ask for patience and understanding in terms of not being able to release the details because we want to protect the privacy of the employee,” Silvestre said.

Reactions to the Board’s alleged request have been mixed. The teachers union in MCPS, Montgomery County Educators Association (MCEA), has praised the move, saying that McKnight’s leadership has brought “corruption, malfeasance, and unsafe working conditions” to MCPS. On the other hand, the Montgomery County NAACP branch supports McKnight, with President Linda Plummer calling McKnight an “outstanding administrator [and] outstanding individual.”

County leaders, on the other hand, have taken a more tempered approach. County Council President Andrew Friedson and councilmember Evan Glass have each called for the release of an unredacted or less-redacted version of the Jackson Lewis report, although neither has called for McKnight’s resignation.

McKnight has served as superintendent of MCPS since June 2021, when she became interim superintendent after the retirement of Jack Smith. In February 2022, McKnight was approved to be MCPS’s permanent superintendent and given a four-year contract starting July 1, 2022.

Given the current unlikelihood of McKnight’s resignation, the Board could move to fire McKnight; however, the legal process would be costly and arduous, involving multiple steps of appeals, and would require concrete evidence of McKnight’s wrongdoing.

Even if McKnight does not resign and is not fired, when her contract expires in 2026, if Board members are not convinced by McKnight, they could decide not to renew her contract and pursue another superintendent.

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Seyun Park, Print Editor-in-Chief
Junior Seyun Park is in his third year of the Pitch, happy to join this year as a Print Editor-in-Chief. Outside of Pitch, Seyun plays tennis and cello, and likes to follow hockey.
Abby Kee, Senior News Editor
Junior Abby Kee is thrilled to be on the Pitch for her third year as a Senior News Editor. Outside of school, she loves hanging out with her friends and family and playing tennis.
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