Behind Closed Doors: MCPS uses database to record and track inappropriate teacher behavior

By Ilana Berger, Senior Writer

MCPS prides itself in having the brightest students and most capable staff in the country. CHS has been a National Blue Ribbon School for years. However, no amount of prestigious awards can cover a serious problem with which MCPS has struggled: incidents of inappropriate staff behavior towards students. Since 1999, fifteen Montgomery County teachers have been arrested for alleged child and sexual abuse of students. That’s one for every year.

In response, the Department of Human Resources and Development (DHDR) set up a database in October which records allegations of inappropriate school staff behavior towards students.

The database, which has been but to use throughout the county over the course of the year, is also known as the Inappropriate Interaction File. It is confidential and can only be viewed by DHDR Director of the Performance Evaluation and Compliance unit, Robert Grundy, and Coordinator for Compliance Issues, Heather Dublinske.

“The principal fills out a form if they feel that there is a problem with a staff member, and has to check how it was addressed with the employee,” Grundy said.

The incidents that have been entered into the database include 26 that occurred this year and other problems that have occurred in past years. Out of those 26, one MCPS staff member was fired after having multiple incidents recorded on the database.

According to Principal Joan Benz, no teachers from CHS have been entered into the database.

While some feel that the database has been successful in helping to create a safer environment for students, others feel that it may discourage educators from calling Child Services when they see a problem.

According to the Maryland DHDR, all health practitioners, educators, human service workers and police officers are “required” to report any suspected child abuse “both orally and in writing.”

“I think that the database is an attempt by the school system to circumvent the law,” said Janis Sartucci, Parents’ Coalition member and former MCPS parent. “Under the law, educators are mandatory reporters. They are supposed to report to their superior, pick up the phone and call Child Services.”

Although students are encouraged to report inappropriate behavior to an educator, many say that they feel uncomfortable doing so. This suggests that much of the responsibility to report such behavior falls on the educators themselves.

“I wouldn’t know who to tell,” junior Andrew Murren said. “A teacher is an authority figure, but they’re breaking the bond of trust with their students. They are supposed to be role models, but they are doing something wrong.”

According to Grundy, in order to emphasize the importance of following procedure, the DHDR, along with a detective from the Montgomery County Police Family Crimes Unit, and supervisors from Child Services, presented the database to principals.

“We made it very clear that the database in no way supersedes the obligation to call Child Services,” Grundy said.

Opponents of the database worry that since only MCPS principals can request names to be entered, teachers’ inappropriate behavior could easily go unchecked.

“The principle is responsible for everyone in the school, so everything ultimately comes to us,” Benz said, “But in that case, the complaint would go to the Superintendent for Secondary Schools. It just keeps moving up the administrative ladder.”

Some parents also question why they are not notified when their child’s teacher gets entered into the database.

“If my child had a teacher with a record like that, I would want to know,” Sartucci said. “First and foremost comes the safety of the children. This feels like the system’s biggest concern is the teachers.”

However, proponents fear that the serious nature of these kinds of allegations may cause the community to come to false conclusions.

“Everyone’s main interest is to protect the kids, but there may be nothing to some of the incidents that are entered into the database,” Grundy said. “For example, if I forgot to take down the paper covering a classroom window from a drill, and someone might think that wasn’t quite right. There may be a completely legitimate reason. It wouldn’t be fair to cast a teacher in that light—it’s like a conviction before anything even happened.”

According to MCPS’s Sexual Harassment policy, students should contact their Administrator or Principal for help with a sexual harassment issue. They can also call a Human Resources Compliance Specialist at 301-279-3361, or the Office of Human Resources at 301-279-3270.