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Oct 3, 201209:59 AMEducation Matters

Montgomery County School Board President: We Must Be Vigilant

Oct 3, 2012 - 09:59 AM
Montgomery County School Board President: We Must Be Vigilant

Courtesy of Montgomery County School Board

Montgomery County school board President Shirley Brandman wants parents and the community to know that the board acted decisively to fire an elementary school teacher accused of inappropriate conduct toward male students soon as members learned of the situation from MCPS administrators.  

“Once it was referred to us, the board did take direct action,” Brandman said in a phone interview Sunday.

But that wasn’t until May 2010 when then-Superintendent Jerry Weast recommended to the board that veteran teacher Daniel Picca be fired for insubordination and misconduct—17 years after he was first accused of inappropriate conduct toward boys and following several warnings and reprimands from three principals and two superintendents.

The school board fired Picca in May 2011. Picca, then a popular teacher at Kemp Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, appealed to the Maryland State Board of Education, which last week announced it had upheld the firing.

The state board chastised MCPS for taking so long to fire Picca, and urged school districts to develop or review policies to make sure such situations are dealt with promptly.

But Brandman noted that the school board doesn’t hear about such matters until MCPS is recommending disciplinary action. Members acted once Weast recommended disciplinary action to the board, she said.

Still, school officials and the board must be committed to preventing such a situation from happening again, she said.

“It will take vigilance in investigating suspicious behavior and a willingness to act quickly in the face of compelling evidence,” Brandman said. “We will have to work with the system to make sure our processes support these actions.”

MCPS has asked the state to revoke Picca’s teaching license.

Meanwhile, Picca continues to profess his innocence, repeating during a Saturday phone interview his often-stated assertions that the first allegations against him came from a parent with whom he’d had a relationship, and that others over the following years were reprisals for his work as a teachers’ union representative.

Those allegations included touching boys and feeling their biceps; asking them to take off their shirts and flex their muscles and to sit on his lap; and meeting privately with students after he’d been directed not to.

“Not one kid over a 30-year career said I did anything inappropriate to him. I never touched a kid inappropriately ever,” said Picca, who lives in Silver Spring. “I was a great teacher. I loved teaching. Now I’m being portrayed as a monster.”

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Education Matters will discuss the news and issues affecting both public and private schools in Montgomery County. We want to talk about what’s happening inside—and outside—the classroom, who’s making the grade and who isn’t.

Julie Rasicot is a former newspaper reporter and managing editor who’s been writing about education for 25 years. She’s a veteran PTA and classroom volunteer who’s the mother of two girls—an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader—attending MCPS schools. None of that seems to matter, though, when she’s struggling to help her kids with their math homework.

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