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frus­tra­tion.

“Ev­ery sin­gle one of the mem­bers of this board of ed­u­ca­tion were deeply dis­turbed by what we learned about what hap­pened in the in­ci­dents of Head Start,” Eubanks said. “We re­spond to that in dif­fer­ent ways. We ad­dress it in dif­fer­ent ways. But make no mis­take — each and ev­ery one of us on this board of ed­u­ca­tion are deeply com­mit­ted to mak­ing sure we get this is­sue right.”

In the board’s joint state­ment, Eubanks said the de­ci­sion to re­lin­quish the Head Start grant not only en­sures that ev­ery one of the 900 plus stu­dents — who be­gan school on Aug. 29 — would have un­in­ter­rupted ser­vices for the en­tire 2016-17 school year, but also en­sures the pro­gram would con­tinue with no loss in fund­ing, he said.

“We’ve al­ready been in com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies which shares our com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing un­in­ter­rupted ser­vices to Head Start chil­dren and fam­i­lies,” Eubanks said. “We will col­lab­o­rate with our part­ners in county gov­ern­ment to ne­go­ti­ate an in­terim agree­ment … and to de­velop a long-term so­lu­tion that en­sures qual­ity Head Start ser­vices for chil­dren and fam­i­lies in Prince Ge­orge’s County for years to come. This is an im­por­tant first step, but it is by no means, the end. We will con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate the events that oc­curred and hold ac­count­able the sys­tem and/or in­di­vid­u­als who failed to pro­tect our chil­dren. Most im­por­tantly, we must ex­am­ine deeply our poli­cies, our pro­cesses and our cul­ture to gain the trust of our com­mu­nity.”

“This is on the heels of the Judge Syl­va­nia Woods [El­e­men­tary School] sit­u­a­tion [that in­volved al­leged cases of child abuse and pornog­ra­phy] which now makes it im­pos­si­ble to trust this lead­er­ship,” said Tonya Wing­field, one of three res­i­dents who tes­ti­fied on is­sues sur­round­ing the Head Start pro­gram. “I chal­lenge the county ex­ec­u­tive, who is also a lawyer, sworn-in to up­hold the law to act re­spon­si­bly and de­mand the same. If things are to work, we will soon know, un­der the ap­pro­pri­ate law en­force­ment agen­cies that have not ini­ti­ated ac­tions to show they un­der­stand the se­ri­ous­ness of th­ese in­di­vid­u­als’ ac­tions, the [U.S.] Jus­tice Depart­ment needs to be­gin an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Be­ing that Eubanks, Board Vice Chair­woman Carolyn Bos­ton, Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell and other top school of­fi­cials had full knowl­edge of the is­sues un­cov­ered by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­view of the Head Start pro­gram, Wing­field said the fact that they still have jobs sends the mes­sage that the lives of chil­dren in the county do not mat­ter.

“The CEO, board chair and vice chair and the deputy su­per­in­ten­dents of teach­ing and learn­ing, and ev­ery deputy and staff mem­ber un­der them, had an obli­ga­tion to do the right thing for those chil­dren once they saw that re­port,” Donna Young said. “In­stead and for what­ever rea­son, be a fear of los­ing their jobs or plain old un­car­ing na­ture, has aided in child abuse and should be re­moved from any ac­cess to our chil­dren. The county ex­ec­u­tive stated that he was not go­ing to ask for the res­ig­na­tion of the CEO and board mem­bers as he had con­fi­dence in them and ended that state­ment with, ‘Our test scores have in­creased.’ … More ap­palling than the county ex­ec­u­tive’s state­ment and mis­lead­ing guid­ance about our in­creased test scores is the in­fer­ences that the ci­ti­zens of Prince Ge­orge’s County are will­ing to trade and ig­nore the safety and well-be­ing of our chil­dren.”

Young said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate fed­eral fund­ing for the Head Start pro­gram is a re­flec­tion of poor judg­ment and lack of com­pli­ance on be­half of school sys­tem of­fi­cials.

“Un­til you con­sider the value of your em­ploy­ees and treat them with dig­nity and re­spect, this sys­tem will con­tinue to fail in many ways,” said Shirley Kirk­land, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Clas­si­fied Em­ploy­ees, Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees (ACE-AFSCME) Lo­cal 2250 Inc., based in Up­per Marl­boro. “Here we are, at the be­gin­ning of a new school year, al­ready faced with neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity at the hands of ad­min­is­tra­tion and this board. To ap­pease the pub­lic and me­dia, threats are made to em­ploy­ees and car­ried out in the most im­mor­tal­iz­ing man­ner one could imag­ine.”

Kirk­land, who spoke on be­half of the sup­port sys­tem for the school district, said ACE-AFSCME fully sup­ports tak­ing im­me­di­ate ac­tion when em­ploy­ees are found guilty of any abuse to­ward chil­dren. How­ever, she raised con­cerned re­gard­ing abuse of those em­ploy­ees when they are sum­moned to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Mem­bers are be­ing sum­moned to re­port to la­bor re­la­tions with no prior no­tice … only to find out that in an ef­fort for ad­min­is­tra­tion to show the pub­lic and me­dia, that their ac­tions are to take th­ese facts and use against the em­ployee with­out any of­fi­cial pro­cess,” Kirk­land said. “Th­ese sum­mons are be­ing car­ried out with no of­fi­cial no­tice to the mem­ber but a mere phone call. … We are set up for yet more li­a­bil­i­ties by way of in­de­pen­dent, wrong­ful ter­mi­na­tion law­suits. … The Judge [Syl­va­nia] Woods tragedy has cre­ated an un­healthy work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for ev­ery­one in ed­u­ca­tion who deals di­rectly with our chil­dren. … Is it the mean­ing be­hind our core value that all staff share re­spon­si­bil­ity for safe and sup­port­ive school en­vi­ron­ments con­tribut­ing to the ex­cel­lence in ed­u­ca­tion.”

When it comes to shar­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for safe and sup­port­ive school en­vi­ron­ments, Bur­roughs pro­posed a mo­tion to have fed­eral of­fi­cials and/or the state gov­ern­ment come in and do an ex­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. That mo­tion failed as some of his col­leagues voted in op­po­si­tion while oth­ers, who were un­sure, ab­stained Bur­roughs’ mo­tion.

“To see us lose fund­ing for Head Start, which serves our most vul­ner­a­ble and most needy stu­dents, is out­ra­geous,” Bur­roughs said. “It makes no sense to me to have the school sys­tem in­ves­ti­gate it­self; that is ab­surd. I think the school sys­tem has al­ready demon­strated an in­abil­ity to be forth­right and forth­com­ing with in­for­ma­tion. So to have that mo­tion fail was very dis­heart­en­ing.”

Bur­roughs said the only way the school sys­tem will im­prove is if it breaks the cul­ture of si­lence. It is im­por­tant for the board to not only be overly trans­par­ent, but also ex­pose ev­ery­thing they know. Oth­er­wise, the prob­lems won’t get fixed, he said.

“This is stress­ful and this is hurt­ful,” said Board Mem­ber Ver­jeana Jacobs, who voted in op­po­si­tion of re­lin­quish­ing fed­eral funds for the pro­gram. “I think the way we move for­ward is the com­mu­nity has to hold us ac­count­able. Ac­count­abil­ity some­times doesn’t feel great, but that’s what has to hap­pen. … As an in­di­vid­ual board mem­ber and a par­ent, I see my role as col­lab­o­rat­ing with par­ents and try­ing to help them be the best ad­vo­cates.”

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