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 teachers say that since coming to lead the Silver Spring school in 2007, Starnes has engaged in bullying behavior to staff, sexually harassed them, retaliated against employees who reported issues by harassing them and putting false statements in staff evaluations, and created a hostile work environment where employees feared termination, among other claims. They say the school board has ignored their complaints.
Carmel Mansour, one of the past teachers at Kemp Mill who is suing, said Friday that she is grateful for the judge’s decision, “for our children and our parents and for all of the staff who have tried to follow the law and do the best for our students.”
Rubin said May 13, 2013, is the first possible start date for the 10-day trial.
“We will wait this out, and we don’t care how long it takes,” Mansour said.
Associate County Attorney Heather A. Mulloy asked Rubin to dismiss the case, stating that the teachers failed to identify causes of action — reasons under law that allow them to sue.
Because the case is based on a hostile work environment, the complaints should be taken to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII, Mulloy said. Title VII prohibits discrimination and retaliation at work.
Attorney Robert J. Weltchek, who is representing the staff members, told Rubin that the teachers have nowhere else to go to seek help, as the school system has not properly investigated the teachers’ claims.
He said teachers and students are suffering under Starnes’ leadership.
The school system cannot comment on pending litigation, school spokesman Dana Tofig said Friday.
Tofig previously has said that the allegations were raised by some of the same employees in the past and were the subject of proceedings at various levels, including the EEOC. In each one of these proceedings to date, these allegations were found to have little or no merit, he said, adding that the EEOC did not move forward with any of the complaints.
Starnes did not return a phone call or email for comment Friday.
After making his decision Friday, Rubin stated that although there are portions of the lawsuit that may not stand up in court, they could be dismissed individually in judgements before the trial. He said the claims that should be heard are ones in which Starnes actively blocked teachers as they attempted to do their legal duty of attending to student needs.
In one of those claims, Weltchek states that a teacher, his daughter Emily Weltchek, had collected notes that students were passing in class that showed evidence that a student was being abused by his or her parents. When Emily Weltchek went to Starnes, he told her not to report it. When she did report it, Starnes retaliated, Robert Weltchek said.
Joan Kaltreider, one of the teachers suing, said Friday that she and other teachers never dreamed they would have to go to court to get their complaints addressed.
“It has shaken my confidence in the institution for sure,” she said. “There are a lot of fabulous schools in Montgomery County ... I would love to know the reason why this one has been left to fall off a cliff.”
Kaltreider said she taught at the school for about 25 years before Starnes started, always receiving positive evaluations from administration.
Because she filed complaints against Starnes to the school board, he retaliated with negative reviews and placed her under a review program for underperforming teachers, the complaint states.
Due to the anxiety and emotional distress he caused her, she went on medical leave on the advice of her doctor, the complaint states.
“[This complaint] is not for the teachers, it is about the children,” she said. “There is no one to speak for the children.”