Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Strange Goings-On at Kemp Mill Elementary

I would not try to guess how this story is going to turn out.

A teacher at Kemp Mill Elementary School was fired for inappropriately touching a student. Turns out the teacher had complained about the principal of the school, and the principal had threatened him. A student wrote a statement accusing the teacher, and the student's parents started a web site saying that their kid was tricked by the principal into writing the statement ... There are several news stories about this, I think WTOP is as good as any.
SILVER SPRING, Md. - Was a popular Montgomery County elementary school teacher fired because he inappropriately touched a child, or because he was leading a group of ten teachers in filing complaints about the principal?

Dan Picca, a fifth grade teacher at Kemp Elementary School, is adamant he did nothing wrong in April when a student fell and hurt his shoulder while waiting for a bus. Since the school nurse had left for the day, Picca checked the child for injuries.

"I was checking out his shoulder to make sure his shoulder was not dislocated. And as I was doing that, another teacher walked into the room," Picca says.

That teacher filed a report with principal Floyd Starnes.

"She basically stated that she walked into the room, that there were kids around, that he was standing in front of me, and that I was checking out his shoulder, which is absolutely correct," Picca says.

In the incident report filed Starnes, a different picture emerged.

"(The report states) Starnes had [the boy] sitting in my lap and I was 'massaging' his shoulder," Picca says.

The boy's mother, Hedy Ross, says her son was questioned by Starnes, and she believes he was coached. Ross bases that on language in the written statement , which she says her son was told to write.

One word jumped out at her: "massage." Ross says she has never known her son to use it, and it was spelled correctly, while other words like "sitting" were misspelled. Ross' son told her Starnes told him to write the word.

Ross says she was never told her son had been questioned.

"It's a totally false statement," Ross says. "The fact that that statement was used to terminate a teacher - that there was a hearing that I didn't even know about, where my son was used as evidence - really makes me angry, and I'm still shocked about it." Fired Md. teacher claims he was targeted

That is a statement by the mother of the kid who wrote the complaint. Usually the parents are the most adamant that a teacher has done something to their child. In this case, they are saying the teacher didn't do anything, and the document attributed to their son is false.

The accusation of child molestation is a pernicious one. Once you've been accused of something like that you can never get rid of the stink. You want the schools to be careful, nobody wants pedophiles in the classroom, but you don't want somebody losing their job because of a false accusation, either.

There are twists to this story. It turns out this principal is facing a major mutiny from his faculty.
Picca says he's being targeted by Starnes because 10 teachers at Kemp Mill Elementary filed complaints about the principal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The complaints range from claims of a hostile work environment to allegations that Starnes sexually harassed teachers, including Picca. Both male and female teachers complained that Starnes would call them "baby," "doll," and "sweetie," language they felt was demeaning and uncomfortable.

Picca claims when he first brought the complaints to the principal, Starnes told him not to go through with the complaints because Starnes had "personnel information" that could harm Picca's job status.

So the principal threatened the teacher if the teacher filed a complaint.

I am having trouble imagining this guy calling both men and women "baby," "doll," and "sweetie." Maybe a truck-stop waitress would do that, I can picture that, but a male grade-school principal? Do you think anybody asked the principal to change his language, or did they just go in together and write up a big complaint? No, really, I don't think a man has ever called me "doll."

It turns out the teacher has had some issues, too.
Picca does have a record that includes two investigations in the 90s. In February of 2000, he was warned by Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast that his behavior involving male students was "...inappropriate, unprofessional and highly suspect." Child Protective Services was contacted in those cases, according to Picca.

Picca maintains he did nothing wrong. He says if there were any basis to the prior investigations, "[Weast] would not have sent me back into the classroom, which he did, and which is where I was for ten years, incident free."

The incident report Picca says was filed by Starnes does not indicate that Child Protective Services was contacted.

It is hard ... no, it is impossible to read between the lines here. Is this some kind of shadowy homophobia at work, or is it just a fight with lots of low blows? Kemp Mill Elementary is in Silver Spring, I'll bet we have a reader who has kids there, maybe some of our readers can fill us in.

As it stands, ten teachers have complained about the principal, and the principal has complained about one teacher. It does appear that the principal manipulated a student into writing a note complaining about the teacher, and the kid's parents are upset about that. I don't know how many teachers have received letters from the Superintendent telling them that their behavior was "inappropriate, unprofessional and highly suspect," but that definitely casts a shadow on the teacher.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The complaints of the teachers against the principal are highly dubious. Even if true, my reaction is: so what? Oh dear, someone called you "baby doll"...how can you go on living?

The reaction of the principal, however, if the allegations are true, is much worse. If the allegations are proven true, termination should only be the beginning of the consequences.

Can we just get rid of them all and start over? Can't be a good atmosphere in the school after this.

August 03, 2010 12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

August 03, 2010 1:06 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Not going to let it happen, Anon. I'm also going to delete your political BS on the other thread.

JimK

August 03, 2010 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BS?

August 03, 2010 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Teachers live in a world like Caesar's wife: they must be above suspicion.

August 03, 2010 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Jeannie said...

This story was covered on the front page of the printed Gazette today. It reveals names of additional teachers harrassed by the principal. Online version:

http://www.gazette.net/stories/08042010/wheanew201758_32535.php

August 04, 2010 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Jeannie said...

http://www.gazette.net/stories/08042010/wheanew201758_32535.php

The link got chopped in my previous comment.

August 04, 2010 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Jeannie said...

Add 758_32535.php

to the end.
The link got chopped again in my previous comment.

August 04, 2010 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Jeannie said...

Once I saw the post online I saw it was correct. Not too computer savy. Sorry.

August 04, 2010 12:58 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Thanks Jeannie for the link. That was good article.

I know it can be tricky fitting text into these comments, thanks for sharing that with us.

JimK

August 04, 2010 1:33 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

I've been on vacation, followed by loss of internet, so I'm just seeing this.

I don't know Floyd Starnes. My youngest child finished fifth grade the June prior to Starns's coming on staff. One of my sons had Dan Picca in the fourth grade. (Picca now teaches fifth.) Dan Picca can be hard-headed. He's opinionated and he has his way of teaching and he doesn't change for any one. On the other hand, he is a truly dedicated and gifted educator and I know many young adults who have excelled in school after Dan got them excited about academics.

I do not for a minute believe that Dan touched a child inappropriately. If there was a complaint that he talked to a parent inappropriately, I'd believe it, but not this charge. We do know that the allegations that led to the firing were never reported to the police or to child protective services, a violation of the law. If MCPS is so certain of the incident that they fired a teacher, why didn't they report it?

MCPS's spokeperson was quoted in the Gazette as saying that Picca was fired due to "allegations of misconduct." No one should lose a job, much less a career, due to allegations. Dan has not yet been given a chance to respond to his accusers and he has been denied due process.

This is the hot topic in our neighbor hood now. Facebook pages have been started, rallies held, lawn signs are sprouting. High jinx, no doubt, will ensue.

August 17, 2010 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What school was he at in February 2000? Clearspring Elementary?

January 02, 2013 8:05 PM  
Anonymous TruthBeKnown said...

http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/197780/158/Teachers-And-Staff-Members-File-Civil-Suit-Against-Principal-Floyd-Starnes-And-Montgomery-County-Board-Of-Education

Seems as if everything Picca said about Principal Starnes has proven true. Six teachers (five of whom filed EEOC paperwork with him back in '10) are suing MCPS and Starnes for $108,000,000. The case starts this Monday, May 13th in Judge Rubin's Mont County courtroom. I am sure media attention will be intense.

Picca was the brave union rep who blew the whistle on this certified nutcase. Yet he is not part of the suit.

I hope Vigilance gets to the bottom of this.

May 07, 2013 7:04 PM  
Anonymous HelpUsSaveUs said...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/montgomery-settles-with-group-of-teachers-who-sued-kemp-mill-principal/2013/05/10/75e79a18-b8d5-11e2-92f3-f291801936b8_story.html

Everything Picca said about Principal Starnes was verified in the settlement reached this week. He was a heroic union whistleblower like Norma Rae who exposed evil and corruption.

How does Starnes still have his job? More importantly, how is not in jail for abusing children in closets?

May 12, 2013 6:43 AM  

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