Local: Education

Firing upheld of Montgomery teacher who touched boys

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

The firing of a Montgomery County elementary school teacher for behaving inappropriately with male students was upheld Tuesday by the Maryland school board, which questioned why the teacher was not fired sooner.

Daniel Picca was terminated from Silver Spring's Kemp Mill Elementary School in 2010, 17 years after an initial complaint at Rachel Carson Elementary School and 12 years after the county's child protective services found him responsible for child abuse.

He received at least seven written warnings over the 17 years from three principals and two superintendents. When former Superintendent Jerry Weast transferred Picca from Rockville's Luxmanor Elementary School to Kemp Mill, Weast explicitly forbade the teacher from "asking a student to raise or remove a shirt or flex his muscles for you regardless of the reason."

Picca contested his firing, claiming Kemp Mill's principal held a grudge against him. But a judge disagreed in July, and the Maryland State Board of Education upheld Picca's firing this week.

"The events chronicled in this case are shocking, not only because they happened, but because they occurred over and over again for seventeen years," the state board wrote. "[T]his teacher was transferred to different elementary schools and remained in the classroom. That should never have occurred."

Schools spokesman Dana Tofig declined to comment on why Picca was not fired sooner. "When the most recent accusation came to our attention, we acted swiftly to remove Mr. Picca from the classroom and immediately pursue his dismissal," Tofig said.

Picca was first reprimanded in 1993 by the principal of Rachel Carson for putting a fifth-grade boy on his lap while alone in a classroom. In 1994, a parent complained that Picca had formed a "Strong Boys Club," where he told boys to take off their shirts so he could feel their muscles. Three months later, a parent reported that Picca had photographed boys shirtless and asked them to slide back and forth on his lap. Although police interviewed five students who confirmed the reports, no criminal charges were filed.

The county's child protective services launched its own investigation and found that Picca's actions qualified as child abuse -- something the school system was unaware of until Picca's termination in 2010.

Former Superintendent Paul Vance transferred Picca to Luxmanor Elementary, where Picca received two formal reprimands from his principal. After a school-system investigation, Weast gave Picca a written reprimand and transferred him to Kemp Mill.

In 2010, another teacher observed Picca rubbing a young boy's shoulders in his classroom. The school system moved to fire Picca in the following weeks.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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