ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County board of education tentatively approved a new policy prohibiting the bullying of schoolteachers and staff in a meeting Monday.
Board members also passed a new policy regulating the school calendar.
The calendar policy determines the process for adding events to the calendar. Only board member Christopher Barclay (D-4) voted against it.
“My concern was how we were doing the identification of the IP addresses,” said Barclay.
“I think comments are very important to hear what people think,” he added. “I don’t think that it’s unimportant that people from outside the region or area comments, but it doesn’t mean we should take it as something necessarily to go ‘one from here, one from there’ and we go based on that.”
“We’re also not making the decision based on the number of comments from Montgomery County compared with comments from some other location,” said Barclay.
The board received more than 1,000 comments on the bill but half of them had undetectable IP addresses.
Dozens of the comments came from people requesting to add an Islamic holiday, the Eid, to the calendar, said Bowers.
Board members discussed for several minutes whether comments from outside the county carried the same importance as those from within the county. The board released the other policy for public comment at the board of education business meeting Monday.
Legal documents show the policy on workplace bullying arrives nearly 2.5 years after three elementary school teachers and one staff member settled a lawsuit against their school principal.
“I think it’s just a way to help address the way, how we are creating the best workplace possible for our employees,” said Barclay.
Barclay said the regulations will determine how Montgomery County Public Schools staff will address bullying.
“The policy is going to be the aspiration,” he said. “It’s going to be the regulation that will matter in terms of what ultimately will be the practice, and we have to see what systems are put in place.”
The case was filed for reasons including “negligence, gross negligence and intentionally seeking to inflict harm upon any subordinate who dared to question his unchecked authority.”
Plaintiffs alleged Starnes tried to sully their names by “falsifying the teachers’ personnel files.”
A plaintiff who asked not to be named, said bullying is a problem in Montgomery County.
“I’m very uncomfortable in this county,” the person said. “We were the teachers trying to protect the children from the principal.”
According to MCPS spokesperson Dana Tofig, “The case of Kemp Mill (Elementary School) has absolutely nothing to do with the board decision to develop policy around workplace bullying.”
The board developed the policy as part of the members’ commitment to nurture an environment of staff being respectful to each other, said Tofig. The policy is based on existing regulations.
The purpose is “to codify what we already do in the system to prevent workplace bullying and handle and investigate allegations of workplace bullying,” he said.
“If we had a concern that a principal was bullying their staff or that an employee was bullying their colleagues, we would not leave them in place,” said Tofig.
Starnes continued to act as principal for two years after the case was settled.
Tofig said he and the superintendent would not talk about the case in particular because it is a law suit and because he had already talked to reporters about it.
“We don’t talk about legal cases,” said Tofig.
Barclay said he could not talk about whether or not the suit and the policy were related.
Joan Kaltreider, retired teacher elementary classroom teacher from Kemp Mill Elementary School and a plaintiff from the case, said she would support the policy.
“If it’s a policy to protect teachers, I’d be highly in favor of it, but I’d be highly skeptical that it would be enforced,” said Kaltreider.
According to the law documents, Kaltreider received a negative recommendation from Starnes, and was later put on probation, after she reported to her union representative her concerns about her principal.
Kaltrieder said the negative recommendation was retaliation for talking about her principal.
She reasoned while she received positive recommendations during her previous 30 years of teaching and when the principal first arrived, her teaching was being scrutinized.
“Looking at training around this (policy),” said Bowers. “Obviously you’re always concerned about behaviors between individuals, between students and student to student, adult to student, adult to adult, so we’re always looking at that. Those are important things that we have to do.”
Bowers said the policy goes “hand in hand” with the “Culture of Respect” document.
“We’ve signed on with unions on the culture of respect document in 2004, and we think this is the next phase of that, in terms of what it really will look like,” he said.