Updated at 3:06 p.m. Wednesday:
Montgomery County Public Schools officials are investigating reports that a Kensington principal in March created a “smash space” where teachers could vent their frustrations by taking a baseball bat to an old rocking chair.
The destruction took place on a Kensington Parkwood Elementary School loading dock posted with a sign advising participants to don goggles and closed-toed shoes before grabbing one of the metal or wooden bats, according to a Tuesday email to parent-teacher association members. PTA President Jessica Chertow wrote that Principal Barbara Liess said she’d set up the smash space on one occasion after getting inspired by a New York Times article.
Other accounts indicated that the stress-management tactic was used more than once, Chertow wrote.
MCPS spokesman Derek Turner confirmed that officials are looking into the reports and said “there is no longer a smash space” at Kensington Parkwood Elementary. Turner said he couldn't comment further because of the ongoing investigation.
In a Wednesday message to parents, Liess apologized for her actions and provided some additional background.
She wrote that the rocking chair in question had become "broken beyond repair" on March 8 and was hauled to an outdoor trash room for collection. The loading dock was out of sight and earshot for students, but she said that was no excuse.
"I absolutely regret my decision to provide staff with an opportunity to 'smash' the rocking chair. This decision was not in response to any teacher comment or behavior, rather a misguided attempt by me to provide staff with an outlet," she wrote. "Our staff is committed to modeling for students and one another productive and appropriate ways for handling stress. I recognize that while well-intended, this scenario is counter to what we teach students and has no place in a school."
Liess' supervisor, Sarah Sirgo, attached a message stating that the smashing activity was not condoned by MCPS.
"We take this matter very seriously and continue to investigate this incident. MCPS has a longstanding commitment to providing its employees with wellness support to help staff manage stress," Sirgo wrote.
Chertow’s email stated a concerned parent told her about the smash space in late March and she referred the report to MCPS. Whistleblowers had already alerted MCPS officials, who had dismantled the smash space, according to the email.
“This is an example of a major lapse in judgement by Ms. Liess—despite good intentions,” Chertow wrote.
She wrote she was unaware whether any children witnessed the rocking chair demolition, which happened during a staff meeting. No students were harmed, and Chertow said she didn’t know how many teachers joined in the activity.
“I can assure you that the MCPS system is working hard to find the right solution(s) for us,” she wrote.
In November, the New York Times reported on the growing popularity of “anger rooms,” businesses where stressed-out people can pick up a sledgehammer or golf club and wreak havoc as music plays in the background. However, some mental health professionals have expressed skepticism that demolishing furniture is an effective therapeutic strategy, according to the article.
Liess, a 10-year principal, recently faced criticism for working a second job as a real estate agent. She announced in December that she was giving up her real estate license after parents complained that she seemed distracted by her side job and a former PTA president claimed a potential conflict of interest.