School task force re­leases find­ings, rec­om­men­da­tions

Ad­dresses steps to take to keep chil­dren safe

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

In re­sponse to the safety con­cerns per­tain­ing to the on­go­ing crim­i­nal investigation of al­leged child sex­ual abuse abuse at Judge Syl­va­nia Woods Ele­men­tary School, Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools, the PGCPS Stu­dent Safety Task Force and the Prince Ge­orge’s Board of Ed­u­ca­tion held a joint press con­fer­ence on May 31 to re­lease the task force’s find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing the school district’s prac­tices. The con­fer­ence was held at the Sass­cer Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing in Up­per Marl­boro.

Es­tab­lished ear­lier this year by school CEO Kevin Maxwell, the task force — com­prised of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties as well as the non-profit, pri­vate, lo­cal govern­ment and pub­lic safety sec­tors — was con­vened to en­sure that the school sys­tem un­der­takes an in­de­pen­dent re­view of its cur­rent poli­cies, pro­ce­dures, pro­cesses and prac­tices de­signed to safe­guard and pro­tect stu­dents. Within 60 days of its con­ven­ing, the task force was re­quired to make rec­om­men­da­tions that sub­stan­ti­ate and en­hance the use of best prac­tices to proac­tively safe­guard chil­dren from harm, ac­cord­ing to the PGCPS web­site.

“They met ex­ten­sively be­yond their work­days, they made them­selves avail­able by phone on the week­end, all in the ser­vice to our school sys­tem, our par­ents and most im­por­tantly, to our chil­dren,” Maxwell said in his in­tro­duc­tory re­marks as he stood at the podium in the cen­ter of the board room. “Ear­lier this year when I es­tab­lished the task force, it was done for three key rea­sons. Since day one, I have been com­mit­ted to en­act­ing real and sub­stan­tive change re­gard­ing stu­dent safety and ed­u­ca­tion in Prince Ge­orge’s County. [Num­ber two,] our chil­dren de­serve this com­mit­ment. As an ed­u­ca­tor and life-long mem­ber of this com­mu­nity, en­sur­ing that our chil­dren re­ceive a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion in a safe en­vi­ron­ment is per­sonal to me. As CEO, I take my re­spon­si­bil­ity to our chil­dren very se­ri­ously and this is in­deed a se­ri­ous mat­ter.”

When the task force was com­mis­sioned, Chair­woman Char­lene M. Dukes said Maxwell set no bound­aries or lim­its on what and where the mem­bers could ex­am­ine and the rec­om­men­da­tions they could ul­ti­mately put for­ward. She said Maxwell was clear in his ex­pec­ta­tions that the task force could and would have ac­cess to whom and what was nec­es­sary to com­plete the charge, ac­cord­ing to a school sys­tem press re­lease.

The task force con­ducted con­fi­den­tial in­ter­views with a wide range of school per­son­nel to as­sess stu­dent safety and how it might be im­proved. Over the last three months, the mem­bers met a min­i­mum of 30 times, with more than 500 hours ded­i­cated to com­plet­ing its work, Dukes said.

“With the es­tab­lish­ment of the task force, I was deter­mined to have an in­de­pen­dent and thor­ough re­view not only of our poli­cies and pro­ce­dures, but also our train­ing, our hir­ing prac­tices and our cur­ricu­lum,” Maxwell said. “I was deter­mined by a neu­tral but for­ward-think­ing lens how we might im­prove upon our ef­forts to pro­tect our chil­dren from harm while pro­vid­ing them with a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. And that is just ex­actly what this re­port be­ing re­leased today, by Dr. Dukes, will help us to do.”

The task force work in­cluded a sur­vey of stake­hold­ers, tar­geted in­ter- views, a re­view of best prac­tices and an analysis of poli­cies and pro­ce­dures now in place with an eye to­ward im­pact­ful changes. As part of its work, the task force also distributed a sur­vey to par­ents, staff, stu­dents and the com­mu­nity to so­licit their in­put in­clud­ing ask­ing for their per­cep­tions, opin­ions and be­liefs about the four key ar­eas; so­lic­it­ing com­ments with re­gard to what the pub­lic thought to be strengths and weak­nesses; and fi­nally, what rec­om­men­da­tions they might pro­vide. About 405 in­di­vid­u­als re­sponded to the sur­vey and gave the task force over 2,800 re­sponses to the ques­tions asked, ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease.

“As pres­i­dent of Prince Ge­orge’s Com­mu­nity Col­lege, what I do know is firsthand how im­por­tant the safety and well-be­ing of our stu­dents is,” Dukes said. “It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of adults to pro­tect chil­dren from harm and that is the un­der­ly­ing theme in this re­port. It is in­ex­tri­ca­bly wo­ven through­out the five ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions, the 61 con­sid­er­a­tions and the 28 sug­ges­tions con­tained within the re­port.”

Ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease, the task force of­fers five ma­jor recom­men- da­tions based on re­port­ing pro­ce­dures, ac­count­abil­ity, over­sight, uni­ver­sal pre­cau­tions and cur­ricu­lum, as a start­ing point for PGCPS.

Rec­om­men­da­tion one is the CEO should re­port pub­licly each year on sys­tem-wide ef­forts re­lated to stu­dent safety. Rec­om­men­da­tion two in­sists the CEO should en­sure that each prin­ci­pal con­ducts safety assess­ment and uses the re­sults to de­velop and im­ple­ment com­pre­hen­sive strate­gies. Rec­om­men­da­tion three states the CEO should es­tab­lish an Of­fice of Mon­i­tor­ing, Ac­count­abil­ity and Com­pli­ance with di­rect re­port­ing to the CEO wherein the of­fice will as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for as­sur­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of pro­ce­dures as­so­ci­ated with poli­cies ap­proved by the board of ed­u­ca­tion, as­sure fi­delity in train­ing, aware­ness of in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­port to whom by when, and com­pli­ance. Rec­om­men­da­tion four is the school sys­tem should de­velop and im­ple­ment a uni­ver­sal pre­cau­tion ap­proach to screen­ing and train­ing of em­ploy­ees, vol­un­teers, ven­dors and con­trac­tors, to in­clude a search­able data­base for rapid iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of red flags. Rec­om­men­da­tion five asks the school sys­tem to up­date the K-12 cur­ric­u­lar con­tent fo­cused on pre­vent­ing child sex­ual abuse that is de­vel­op­men­tally age ap­pro­pri­ate while en­gag­ing par­ents and guardians, and meets ev­i­dence-based cri­te­ria for ef­fec­tive­ness in mit­i­gat­ing in­stances of child sex­ual abuse.

“I speak for the en­tire task force when I say that we are ready to sup­port Dr. Maxwell and the board of ed­u­ca­tion as they worked col­lab­o­ra­tively and swiftly to im­ple­ment any and all of the rec­om­men­da­tions laid out,” Dukes said. “Their work, our work, the work of the Prince Ge­orge’s County Pub­lic Schools and the work of our com­mu­nity at­large we be­lieve is just be­gin­ning.”

In re­sponse to the task force’s rec­om­men­da­tions, Maxwell said he will es­tab­lish a new Of­fice of Mon­i­tor­ing, Ac­count­abil­ity and Com­pli­ance, as well as con­vene a work­group of high-level school sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tors to re­view and im­ple­ment all or most of the 61 con­sid­er­a­tions and 28 op­por­tu­ni­ties to up­date, clar­ify and/or en­hance ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dures within four key ar­eas — cul­ture and cli­mate; re­port­ing and train­ing; screen­ing of em­ploy­ees; vol­un­teers, ven­dors and con­trac­tors; and cur­ricu­lum and coun­sel­ing, ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease.

In ad­di­tion, Maxwell has con­curred with the rec­om­men­da­tions re­gard­ing yearly pub­lic re­port­ing pro­ce­dures, ac­count­abil­ity for train­ing; an up­date of the sys­tem’s cur­ric­u­lar con­tent on pre­vent­ing and teach­ing about child sex­ual abuse, pre K-12, in a de­vel­op­men­tally age-ap­pro­pri­ate man­ner; and the de­vel­op­ment and im­ple­men­ta­tion of a uni­ver­sal pre­cau­tions ap­proach to screen­ing and train­ing to en­sure that all in­di­vid­u­als, who come in con­tact with chil­dren in PGCPS schools on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, must be trained, screened and ap­proved be­fore that con­tact is per­mit­ted. That ap­proach will in­clude a search­able data­base for rapid iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of red flags in con­sul­ta­tion with out­side ex­perts in the field.

“We are still care­fully and thor­oughly re­view­ing the find­ings of the re­port and will make ad­di­tional changes to our prac­tices as we move for­ward. How­ever, based on what we have been able to re­view and an­a­lyze, I have al­ready in­structed my staff to im­me­di­ately be­gin im­ple­ment­ing many of the rec­om­men­da­tions,” Maxwell said.

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