by Sarah Nove ‘20
The #MeToo movement, which promotes awareness of issues surrounding sexual misconduct, made its way to MCPS–Eric Walstein, 72, retired Montgomery Blair math teacher, received accusations of sexual harassment in a letter signed by approximately 400 Blair alumni. Walstein denies all accusations.
The teacher, who retired in 2013 after over 40 years of teaching in the county, currently resides in Brookeville. During his career as a teacher in Blair’s nationally regarded math and science magnet program, Walstein was the recipient of many prestigious teaching awards.
Bethesda Magazine reported that the 37-page letter contained detailed accounts of 85 students’ experiences with Walstein’s alleged sexual harassment. According to The Washington Post, students accused Walstein of “giving backrubs, leering at girls, calling them sexy, stroking their hands, and remarking on their bodies and sex lives.”
The Washington Post interviewed 25 of the women who signed the letter, all of whom recounted similar experiences of Walstein touching them or making inappropriate comments. Many claimed he had female students sit at the front of the classroom so he could give them answers and to “get close to them.” However, Walstein said that he placed female students toward the front of the room to make them feel more comfortable to participate and ask him questions in the male-dominated classroom. He also claimed that the ‘inappropriate comments’ were not remarks on the students’ bodies, but rather critiques of the girls’ revealing clothing.
“A couple of them could have been in magazines, I mean that’s how sexy they looked, and I was very surprised the parents let them do it,” Walstein told The Washington Post.
Walstein’s alleged behavior was considered an ‘open secret’ according to many of the alumni who have spoken out against him. It was widely agreed upon that Walstein had a short temper and could be quite aggressive at times. Many of his reviews on the site www.ratemyteachers.com mentioned his authoritative style. One reviewer noted that “it’s never a good idea to argue with him,” and another said “DO NOT TICK THE MAN OFF OR YOU WILL GET SQUASHED!”
Multiple articles noted that students and parents reported Walstein’s behaviors to Blair’s administration in the past. The Washington Post suggested that there is evidence of at least six different reports to school about Walstein’s harassment. However, the school has not confirmed this.
Blair’s student newspaper, Silver Chips, said, after complaints began to accumulate against Walstein, a rumor emerged that Walstein would rescind the college recommendation letters of those who complained. This rumor may have played a large role in stopping students from reporting Walstein’s behavior.
Though many alumni have spoken out against Walstein, there are former students of Walstein’s who have defended him. Vicky Keston, a former student of his from Tilden High School, told Bethesda Magazine that Walstein “was a huge supporter of girls,” and wrote in an online blog post that Walstein “fostered [her] love of math.”
At the moment, no one has decided to press charges, but the authors of the letter are requesting that, in light of these events, Blair and MCPS as a whole reevaluate the policies in place that are supposed to prevent sexual harassment.