that a teacher humiliated a child and used a method of discipline denying him basic needs. The county had until April 11 to correct this deficiency but ACF determined it had not been corrected.
Based on follow-up reviews conducted April 12-14 and June 10-17, the administration also found that a teacher and assistant teacher humiliated and used corporal punishment on two children as a method of discipline. It was ultimately concluded that the county failed to timely correct those deficiencies for which it had been put on notice and has materially failed to comply with the terms and conditions of its Head Start grant award, resulting in a loss of $6 million in federal funds, the letter stated.
“Our plan is to get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable,” Board Member Edward Burroughs III said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Board leadership has decided to act laterally in this case and not disclose information to the board and that is unacceptable behavior.”
According to the review, on June 15 a teacher and teacher’s assistant at the James Ryder Randall Elementary School Head Start Center in Clinton forced two children to hold objects over their head for an extended period of time as a punishment for their behavior during nap time. The first child was crying and calling the teacher’s name and the teacher yelled at the child and instructed her to continue to hold the object. The second child, who was also yelled at, accidentally dropped the object and was instructed to continue to hold the object. It was confirmed in the review that the assistant teacher initially asked the two children to hold empty folder boxes for jumping on each other’s cots and stated the Head Start teacher added heavier items and time to their punishment if they moved or dropped the items. The school’s Head Start director confirmed the events occurred and stated they were reported to Child Protective Services.
The administration determined the school system did not ensure staff abided by the standards of conduct requiring them to use only positive methods of child guidance and not engage in corporal punishment, emotional or physical abuse or humiliation.
“An incident as important as this is unacceptable that this was never placed on the agenda for discussion or for a formal or informal debriefing,” said Burroughs, who represents District 8 where the incident took place at James Ryder Randall. “I believe it is absurd that members of the board had to learn the details of these cases from the media.”
“This ordeal hinders the Head Start program and those 934 students. It should be the No. 1 issue that the board faces — not so much board governance bickering or board governance politics, but how we enhance and advance the Head Start program,” said Board Member K. Alexander Wallace, representative for District 7. “I was notified, and so was the public, on April 14 at our board public work session. An agenda item was posted as a follow-up item. There were several members not present at that board work session and board executive session. It is difficult for me to understand the concerns that my colleagues have when they say that they were not notified. The difference should be they were not properly notified. … If their issue is that there should have been a stand-alone, separate debriefing, then I concur with those sentiments.”
Wallace said it’s disingenuous for some of his colleagues to say that the investigation was a cover-up or was not properly informed of such issues.
“You can give the documents and the notification and proof that there was an investigation underway, but if you did not have the due diligence to read it, then you cannot say that you were not told,” Wallace said. “As a governing body of the school system, we should be on one accord in terms of progress.”
Burroughs was one of five board members who asked County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to seek the removal of Eubanks and Board Vice Chairwoman Carolyn A. Boston after learning about the incidents of abuse for the first time. In a letter that was signed Monday, fellow board members Beverly Anderson, Zabrina Epps, Verjeana M. Jacobs and Sonya Williams cited a lack of confidence, accountability and transparency in the board leadership.
“As we have previously stated, the county executive is very angry over the situation,” said Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker’s office. “Kids are his first priority and top priority and he will make sure none of these services are uninterrupted to the students and parents who are currently involved in the Head Start program. [Baker] has confidence that [school system CEO] Dr. [Kevin] Maxwell, Dr. Eubanks and Vice Chair Boston will quickly and aggressively address this issue. He has no plans [of terminating anyone at this time].”
The board of education will hold a public meeting Aug. 25 to discuss options in moving forward, Wallace said.
“I’m not looking forward to the bickering of adults,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the progression and protection of the Head Start program.”