2021 | Schools

After being placed on leave and switching schools, administrator moving again

Pfeiffer was on leave after police berated boy; next, she will work in central office

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A Montgomery County Public Schools administrator is switching assignments for the second time in two months after her connection to an episode in which police officers berated and harassed a 5-year-old boy.

Justine Pfeiffer was present, as an assistant principal at East Silver Spring Elementary School, in 2020 as two Montgomery County police were aggressive in their treatment of a 5-year-old boy who walked away from school.

The incident happened in January 2020, but details did not emerge until a year later, when Bethesda Beat reported on the family’s lawsuit against the county and the school system. Then, in March 2021, the police department released body-cam video that showed the officers’ treatment of the boy, prompting scrutiny and backlash over what happened.

Pfeiffer was placed on administrative leave in April 2021 while Montgomery County Public Schools investigated.

Then, at the beginning of July, Pfeiffer switched to Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Gaithersburg, also as an assistant principal.

Some parents at Thurgood Marshall subsequently criticized MCPS on social media, saying they learned of Pfeiffer’s connection to the East Silver Spring incident only through Bethesda Beat’s coverage of her transfer.

Now, Pfeiffer is switching to a job in the school system’s central office.

In a letter to Thurgood Marshall parents on Friday, MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools Ruschelle Reuben wrote that it would be Pfeiffer’s last day at the school and she will move into a new central office position.

Pfeiffer’s new job will be coordinator of summer programs and tutoring in the Office of Teaching Learning and Schools, MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala told Bethesda Beat on Friday. Pfeiffer starts the new job on Monday, with a salary of $119,870, Onijala said.

Asked whether the change in position is related to the controversy over the incident at East Silver Spring or any backlash at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, Onijala declined to comment, calling it a “personnel-related matter.”

“I can’t really speak to it, but I do know the goal is to ensure that Thurgood Marshall can continue its planning for the fall in welcoming all students and staff back. But as it relates to Ms. Pfeiffer, I can’t provide any more information,” she said.

Linda Sheppard, a retired principal with MCPS, will become acting assistant principal at Thurgood Marshall Elementary on Aug. 2, Reuben wrote.

Pfeiffer was present on Jan. 14, 2020 when Officers Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday found a 5-year-old boy who had walked away from East Silver Spring Elementary, grabbed him and escorted him into a police car.

Within two minutes, the boy started crying and an officer told him to “cut it out,” later asking him “Does your mama spank you? … She’s going to spank you today.”

The officers repeatedly picked the boy up and put in him a chair. Five successive times, Holliday screamed at the boy, inches from his face.

After the boy’s mother arrived, the officers talked with her about beating her child without getting in trouble, and one officer briefly tried to scare the boy by handcuffing his wrist and putting both hands behind his back.

The police department released video of the incident 14 months after it happened. Both officers are still employed following an internal investigation.

The boy’s family has filed a lawsuit against the county, the officers and the school system, and it specifically names Pfeiffer as a defendant.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com