Both sides signed a confidentiality agreement that bars release of the terms of the settlement, which The Washington Post confirmed late Thursday. A joint statement from attorneys in the case said only: “This case has been settled to the satisfaction of all parties.”
Five teachers and an attendance secretary who used to work at Kemp Mill accused Floyd D. Starnes, who started in 2007, of violating numerous laws and school system policies. They charged that Starnes denied services to special education students and advised a young teacher not to report suspicions of abuse to Child Protective Services. The teacher reported it anyway and alleged that Starnes retaliated after investigators visited the school.
Starnes, who remains in the position, did not return an e-mail seeking comment and was not available at the school. School officials who said they were speaking on his behalf said he would not comment.
The idea of taking an out-of-control child into a closetlike space drew a series of questions at a pretrial hearing May 3 in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Judge Ronald B. Rubin said he did not know whether the allegations were true, but if so, he asked: “Really?”
He inquired: How old was the child? How big was the room? At one point, he referred to the room as a “box.”
Associate County Attorney Heather A. Mulloy, who represented the school system and Starnes in the case, protested. No child was ever placed in a box, she said.
“A small, confined space, with the door closed, in the dark?” Rubin asked. “What’s the difference?”
Mulloy sought to explain the principal’s perspective.
“There was a child out of control,” she said. “This happens in schools sometimes.
. . . The policy says that if there is a kid out of control, you have to — for their own safety and the safety of others — take them away from that area. . . . [Starnes] was trying to have an area where he could have the child have his tantrum and then calm him down.”
Both sides in the case met with a mediator this week, but they would not discuss details of the session.
“We are very happy with the results, and we were glad it didn’t go to trial,” said Barbara Reeks, one of the plaintiffs, who worked as a music teacher at Kemp Mill for 28 years. Of the six employees involved in bringing the case, three continue to teach in Montgomery, one is retired and two have resigned.
The lawsuit, filed last year, was unusual. It is regarded by some as the alarming story of a principal gone wrong and by others as a personality clash that went from schoolhouse to courthouse. It raises broader questions about how closely principals are supervised and how well they are trained. Starnes was a newcomer to the job when he started at Kemp Mill — with leadership stints at other schools as a principal intern, for a year, and an assistant principal for two years. His management style and early habit of calling people “babe” and “doll” put off some on his staff.