Teachers in Silver Spring, Maryland, are suing their principal and the school board for ongoing bullying and harassment. Unfortunately, this form of abuse toward public school teachers is far from a rare occurrence.
Kate Alexander reports for Maryland Community News Online (link here):
A group of educators at Kemp Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring have filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County school board and Kemp Mill’s principal, claiming years of systemic harassment, and neglect by the board to do anything about it.
. . . The group claims that since coming to lead Kemp Mill in 2007, Principal Floyd Starnes has engaged in “unabated and outrageous bullying behavior directed toward the Kemp Mill teachers, as well as the administrative and custodial staff,” according to the lawsuit.
The teachers repeatedly took their concerns to Montgomery County Public Schools leadership, but according to the complaint, the Montgomery County Board of Education failed to intervene.
Hell hath no fury like a father whose daughter has been mistreated! The lead attorney, Robert Weltchek, filed the lawsuit after learning about working conditions at the school from his own daughter, Emily, who taught at Kemp Hill:
“It is fortuitous that Emily is my daughter and I’m a trial lawyer,” he said. “When I heard this story, I was sufficiently outraged, as a lawyer and a father, that nothing had been done over all these years. It seemed to me the only hope that these teachers have is litigation.”
Principal bullying of teachers
Principal bullying of teachers is a serious problem.
Education professors Joseph and Jo Blase have documented this phenomenon in their groundbreaking 2002 book, Breaking the Silence, Overcoming the Problem of Principal Mistreatment of Teachers (reviewed here).
In addition, the National Association for Prevention of Teacher Abuse (link here) is dedicated to addressing these behaviors through public education and advocacy.
Echoes of South Hadley, MA
If we need more evidence of this phenomenon, we can look to the aftermath of the 2010 suicide of South Hadley, Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince. One of the few teachers to support her was bullied out of her job. As I wrote last year:
After South Hadley, Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince took her own life following a brutal campaign of bullying by her classmates in 2010, one of her supportive teachers — Deb Caldieri — was bullied out of her job by principal Dan Smith and other school administrators.
Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen shares the story (link here):
Her name is Deb Caldieri, and she has been driven from the school as surely as Phoebe was hounded to the grave. Her career and her health have been ruined.
This being South Hadley High, she has suffered all this mostly because she had the temerity to question the way her superiors handled the whole mess.
She didn’t follow the party line at South Hadley High, which from the beginning was to blame Phoebe and excuse the bullies. Phoebe was the outsider, the clueless blow-in from overseas who brought all her troubles on herself. That was the party line.
Memphis in May
In May I’ll be traveling to Memphis to speak about workplace bullying to the National Organization of Lawyers for Education Associations, which is associated with the National Education Association. I’m looking forward to the discussion, and I hope it will allow us to explore strategies for dealing with bullying of public educators.
Teachers unions, we need you!
The Silver Springs and South Hadley situations are prime examples of why we need the teachers unions to support the Healthy Workplace Bill, anti-bullying legislation I authored that currently is under consideration in some 13 states. Here in the Bay State, we’ve been fortunate to have support of members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
July 5, 2012 update — As you can see from the Comments, a reader kindly alerted me that the school district’s motion to dismiss the claims has been denied and that the case is slated to go to trial in May 2013. As reported by Jen Bondeson on Maryland Community News Online (link here):
Former teachers of Kemp Mill Elementary School and their supporters hugged and wiped away tears as they exited a Montgomery County courtroom Friday.
Finally, they said, someone is listening.
Minutes earlier, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin denied Montgomery County Public Schools’ request to dismiss the teachers’ case against Kemp Mill Principal Floyd Starnes and the Montgomery County Board of Education.
In the lawsuit filed in March, six educators accuse Starnes and the school board of intentional infliction of emotion distress, gross negligence and negligence.
The full article goes into more detail about the allegations and legal machinations behind the case.
October 13, 2013 update — I’m tardy in reporting that this lawsuit was settled in May, with terms kept confidential. Donna St. George reported for the Washington Post:
Montgomery County officials have reached an out-of-court settlement with six former employees at Kemp Mill Elementary School who accused their one-time principal of misconduct and retaliation.
The settlement . . . puts an end to a civil lawsuit that, according to court documents, included allegations that the principal escorted unruly children into a closet-size room to calm them down and subjected staff members to unwanted touching, verbal abuse and harassment.
Both sides signed a confidentiality agreement that bars release of the terms of the settlement . . . . A joint statement from attorneys in the case said only: “This case has been settled to the satisfaction of all parties.”