BRIEF­ING

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Learn­ing Mon­ica Gold­son, Gen­eral Coun­sel Shauna Bat­tle, Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Se­gun Eubanks, Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Vice Chair­woman Carolyn Bos­ton and Board Mem­ber Cur­tis Valen­tine were among the speak­ers who sat on the dais.

“It’s the re­spon­si­bil­ity of adults to keep chil­dren safe,” said Coun­cil Chair­man Der­rick L. Davis (D), read­ing a state­ment on be­half of his col­leagues. “The litany of is­sues that have re­cently come to light in­volv­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the county schools and stu­dent safety has been truly shock­ing, hor­ri­fy­ing and frankly, ab­so­lutely un­ac­cept­able. The stu­dents, par­ents and ed­u­ca­tion stake­hold­ers of our county de­serve bet­ter. All of us on this coun­cil, and the res­i­dents we serve, de­mand im­me­di­ate cor­rec­tion ac­tion to fix the in­sti­tu­tional prob­lems that have be­come ap­par­ent.”

Last month, the Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies in­formed the ed­u­ca­tion board that fed­eral grant fund­ing for its Head Start pro­gram would be ter­mi­nated after a re­view — con­ducted by the ad­min­is­tra­tion on Feb. 22 — de­ter­mined the county not only failed to timely cor­rect de­fi­cien­cies, but also to en­sure that staff, con­sul­tants and vol­un­teers abided by the pro­gram’s stan­dards of con­duct and that only pos­i­tive meth­ods of child guid­ance are used.

Re­ports of child abuse and ne­glect date back to Dec. 17 of last year when a teacher at the H. Winship Wheat­ley Early Child­hood Cen­ter in Capi­tol Heights forced a 3-yearold child to mop up his own urine in front of other stu­dents dur­ing nap time. The teacher — who did not put the child in clean clothes — then used her cell phone to take pic­tures and sent one of them to the child’s par­ent with sev­eral text mes­sages, in­di­cat­ing she felt the pun­ish­ment was ap­pro­pri­ate for the child after wet­ting his pants. The ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to the its re­view, ul­ti­mately con­cluded that the pun­ish­ment and texts were meant to hu­mil­i­ate the child and are a form of emo­tional abuse.

A sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion — stem­ming from a June 15 in­ci­dent at the James Ry­der Ran­dall Ele­men­tary School Head Start Cen­ter in Clin­ton — found that a teacher and as­sis­tant teacher forced two chil­dren to hold ob­jects, folder boxes with books in them, over their heads be­cause they mis­be­haved dur­ing nap time. The as­sis­tant teacher later con­firmed that the chil­dren were ini­tially asked to hold empty boxes for jump­ing on each other’s cots; how­ever, the Head Start teacher added heav­ier items and more time to their pun­ish­ment if the chil­dren moved or dropped the boxes, ac­cord­ing to the re­view.

An­other in­ci­dent, which also hap­pened in June, in­volved a 5-year-old child who wan­dered away from school grounds after she was left un­su­per­vised for nearly an hour at the Lan­g­ley Park McCormick Ele­men­tary School Head Start Cen­ter. Head Start staff even­tu­ally lo­cated the child at her home, which re­quired her to cross at least one street to get there, the re­view noted.

“We have re­trained all Head Start staff on re­port­ing sus­pected abuse and pro­vid­ing pos­i­tive dis­ci­pline tech­niques prior to the open­ing of our Head Start pro­gram [on Aug. 29],” Maxwell said. “Shortly after re­ceiv­ing no­tice, we met with the Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies to dis­cuss our op­tions and es­tab­lish pri­or­i­ties for any sub­se­quent tran­si­tion.”

Dur­ing a pri­vate ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion Aug. 25, the board of ed­u­ca­tion voted to vol­un­tar­ily re­lin­quish fed­eral fund­ing for Head Start, al­low­ing the pro­gram to con­tinue in the in­terim with no loss of fund­ing. The ad­min­is­tra­tion then an­nounced the fol­low­ing day that the Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment In­sti­tute Head Start would serve as an in­terim gran­tee, ac­cord­ing to a school sys­tem press re­lease.

Maxwell said the board’s de­ci­sion al­lowed the school sys­tem to be­gin a for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tion with the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­gard­ing the short- and longterm fu­ture of Head Start in the county.

“We have also ex­am­ined our own prac­tices to iden­tify what cor­rec­tive ac­tions are needed to en­sure that every Head Start stu­dent is cared for ap­pro­pri­ately,” Maxwell said. “Our ac­tion plan con­tains mul­ti­ple strate­gies that will be used through­out the school year to en­sure re­port­ing and train­ing on pos­i­tive stu­dent dis­ci­pline con­tin­ues not only for our Head Start stu­dents, but for all stu­dents served in our Early Child­hood pro­gram.”

Based on the find­ings from the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ex­ter­nal re­port, Maxwell said he has ter­mi­nated three em­ploy­ees and re­quested that the board of ed­u­ca­tion ter­mi­nate three ad­di­tional em­ploy­ees.

“I know many of you are deeply con­cerned by me­dia re­ports about on­go­ing safety is­sues in our schools,” he con­tin­ued. “I want to as­sure you that I share that con­cern and I as­sure you we are work­ing ag­gres­sively to ad­dress the root causes and dis­miss in­di­vid­u­als who dis­re­gard our stu­dents’ wel­fare, well-be­ing and dig­nity. … We have re­trained all em­ploy­ees on the re­quire­ments to re­port all cases of sus­pected child abuse and ne­glect to Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices which have re­sulted in an in­crease of new cases. … More­over, I’m meet­ing with my col­leagues in the De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices and the po­lice de­part­ment to iden­tify some ad­di­tional mea­sures to help my team and I stay abreast of the num­ber of cases be­ing re­ferred, how the cases are pro­ceed­ing and to ex­pe­dite the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

When it comes to on­go­ing safety is­sues, me­dia re­ports claim that po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing new al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse at James Ry­der Ran­dall after a school bus aide was ac­cused of mo­lest­ing sev­eral pre-kinder­garten stu­dents with spe­cial needs. The in­ci­dent, which was re­ported to Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices May 24 and to po­lice June 20, re­sulted in the bus aide be­ing placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave along with his su­per­vi­sor.

“We will con­tinue to de­fer our in­ves­ti­ga­tions to law en­force­ment and Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices,” Maxwell said. “For cases that pos­si­bly af­fect the en­tire school, we are host­ing par­ent meet­ings to ad­dress their con­cerns. For cases in­volv­ing par­tic­u­lar stu­dents, we are reach­ing out to par­ents di­rectly to give them a clear point of con­tact for any ques­tions or con­cerns.”

Maxwell said he has per­son­ally reached out to sev­eral par­ents in the past few weeks. He wants all par­ents to rest as­sured that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue to fo­cus on im­prov­ing re­port­ing struc­tures and sys­tems so that any case re­lated to stu­dent safety is re­sponded to with­out de­lay, he said.

“Since this cri­sis be­gan, we’ve been com­mu­ni­cat­ing reg­u­larly with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and have been get­ting reg­u­lar up­dates — these up­dates have been part of both the pub­lic agenda and ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion brief­ings,” Eubanks said. “We’ve asked Dr. Maxwell and his ad­min­is­tra­tion to pro­vide a full de­brief­ing of the events listed in the Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies re­port as part of a broader dis­cus­sion of Head Start in Prince Ge­orge’s County, past, present and fu­ture. … That de­brief­ing is com­plete, in writ­ing, and will be made pub­lic and trans­par­ent.”

Last week, Eubanks said the ed­u­ca­tion board in­vited rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the ad­min­is­tra­tion to share how they ar­rived at their de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate fed­eral fund­ing as well as their rec­om­men­da­tions for avoid­ing fu­ture oc­cur­rences. How­ever, this re­quest is still un­der con­sid­er­a­tion by the ad­min­is­tra­tion, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Eubanks, board mem­bers met in an ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion Sept. 15 to dis­cuss more re­cent re­ports re­lated to em­ploy­ees be­ing placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave, in­clud­ing the new prin­ci­pal at Judge Syl­va­nia Woods Ele­men­tary School, Brian Jones was re­cently cleared of an anony­mous al­le­ga­tion school of­fi­cials re­ceived by email. That is the same school where a for­mer teacher’s aide, 22-year-old Deonte Car­raway, worked be­fore he was in­dicted on 270 charges of child abuse and pornog­ra­phy for al­legedly film­ing chil­dren per­form­ing sex acts on each other.

Eubanks said the de­tails from last week’s ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion can­not be shared due to per­son­nel and le­gal is­sues.

“I will say we had a long and pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion and de­vel­oped a plan for how we ad­dress more ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the board of ed­u­ca­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion. The board’s coun­sel and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s gen­eral coun­sel are meet­ing to de­velop an im­ple­men­ta­tion plan,” said Eubanks.

Maxwell said the in­crease in new al­le­ga­tions and re­ported mis­con­duct within the school sys­tem may be a re­sult of the re­forms put in place by the Stu­dent Safety Task Force, which Maxwell es­tab­lished ear­lier this year in the wake of the sex abuse scan­dal at Judge Syl­va­nia Woods. Maxwell also im­ple­mented a new Of­fice of Mon­i­tor­ing, Ac­count­abil­ity and Com­pli­ance after the task force re­leased its find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing cur­rent poli­cies, pro­ce­dures and prac­tices.

“Crises in such a large sys­tem is often un­avoid­able,” Eubanks said. “But how we choose to re­spond to crises is well within our con­trol. Re­spond­ing with di­vi­sion and fin­ger-point­ing keeps us mired in con­tro­versy and builds even greater mis­trust among par­ents and the com­mu­nity.”

“All 20,000 em­ploy­ees in the school sys­tem are go­ing to have to hold them­selves ac­count­able,” Deputy Su­per­in­ten­dent Davis said. “What we have not fig­ured out just yet is how to change be­hav­iors and mind­sets of those who choose to do crim­i­nal acts within our school sys­tem.”

Mov­ing for­ward, Davis said the safety and wel­fare of chil­dren en­rolled in the school sys­tem is the county’s high­est pri­or­ity. The coun­cil will need to see hard ev­i­dence of the mea­sures be­ing taken to en­sure these lapses will not hap­pen again and that any sys­temic is­sues are com­pre­hen­sively ad­dressed, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease from the coun­cil’s of­fice.

“We hear daily from county res­i­dents who are ex­press­ing out­rage and in­creased skep­ti­cism with re­gard to the county school op­er­a­tions and the way our stu­dents have been treated,” Davis said. “The mem­bers of this body share a deep con­cern, and in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, we be­lieve more needs to be done to im­prove the school board’s ad­min­is­tra­tive over­sight and the school sys­tem’s man­age­rial func­tions. Sim­ply put, we must take bet­ter care of our chil­dren and our stu­dents.”

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