Maryland students, parents want principal accused of sexual harassment fired

By Michael Birnbaum
Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Silver Spring principal, who has been accused of sexual harassment by some of his staff, sent a letter to the school community apologizing for language he used in school.

But it was not enough to satisfy a group of high school students and parents who picketed Kemp Mill Elementary School on Friday during a back-to-school open house, demanding the ouster of the principal, Floyd Starnes.

The school system investigated accusations against Starnes this summer after teachers complained that he had called them "baby" or "sweetie" and that he touched or pinched at least one of them.

In the letter to Kemp Mill parents last week, Starnes apologized for the "terms of endearment" and said he would no longer address teachers in that manner. He denied other allegations against him, and the school system does not plan to remove him from his job.

One of the teachers who accused Starnes of misconduct, Daniel J. Picca, was fired in late May after allegations that he inappropriately touched a boy in his fourth-grade math class in April. The school system is attempting to deny Picca unemployment benefits, which he has received since May. The boy's parents say the incident did not take place and that Starnes forced their son into writing a false statement.

At least nine other current and former school staff have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over their grievances with Starnes.

"The school system has been totally unresponsive," said Hedy Ross, the parent of the fourth-grader at the center of the case against Picca. She and her husband organized the protest, which was attended by about 20 high school students -- most former students of Picca's -- and several community members. For Ross, the apology was not nearly enough.

"If you rob a bank, and you apologize for it, do you get off the hook?" she said.

A Montgomery County schools spokesman, Dana Tofig, said that the internal investigation against Starnes had concluded that "most of the charges were either not true, misrepresentations or were unverifiable."

Tofig declined comment on the dispute over Picca's unemployment benefits, saying that it was a confidential personnel matter.

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