Know Your Rights: How to Advocate for Suspended Students

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by J. Parker

The Prince George’s County school system has been in a state of educational change and growth over the past few months with the new interim CEO. Now, with the addition of new incoming school board members, there is a renewed sense of hope for a change within our school system that will continue to push our system towards new educational heights. However there is still much work to be done, with many concerns surrounding the policies and procedures of disciplinary practices within the county.

In the 2016- 2017 school year, a quarter of all elementary school children suspended in Maryland were from Prince George’s County despite current state legislation prohibiting suspension for grades 2 and under. In the 2017-2018 school year, 48 percent of out-of-school suspensions in Prince George’s county were for disruption and disrespect and 1 in 4 children with out-of-school suspensions in Prince George’s county were students with disabilities.

On November 14, 2018, Delegate Erek L. Barron and former School Board Vice Chair Carolyn Boston, hosted a workshop at G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland. The presentation by the Maryland Suspension Representation Project (MSRP) focused on informing the public on their rights during the disciplinary process within Maryland, specifically Prince George’s county. The MSRP is a partnership between Disability Rights Maryland, Maryland Office of the Public Defender, the Public Justice Center, and the Youth, Education and Justice Clinic at the Maryland School of Law.  They are “committed to protecting the due process rights of Maryland students who face school push out.”

There were several key points and takeaways from the workshop, the first being that you and your child should be fully aware of various circumstances where your child has been suspended. If your child was physically removed for breaking school rules, kicked out of a regular classroom, told to go to the front office or the in-school-suspension (ISS) room for the rest of the day, told to go home for the day, or told you cannot enter the building, chances are they have been suspended or possibly expelled.

Parents must be notified in writing of all suspensions prior to the suspension start date. If you receive a call from the school or administration asking you to, “Just come pick your child up,” immediately clarify with the school whether or not your child is being suspended. If they are not, there is no requirement for you to pick your child up at that time and they should be allowed to finish the school day. If they are being suspended, then the administrator must provide you with documentation stating as such at or before you pick up your child that day.

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Elections 2018: Thomas, Boozer-Strother, Queen, Williams Win Board Seats

Four seats on the Prince George’s County Board of Education were up for grabs in today’s general election. Challengers Joshua Thomas (Dist. 2) and Belinda Queen (Dist. 6) defeated incumbents, while Sonya Williams (Dist. 9) successfully defended her seat on the board. Newcomer Pamela Boozer-Strother won the District 3 seat left open after Dinora Hernandez declined to run for reelection.

Here are the Maryland State Board of Elections unofficial results for the four school board races in Prince George’s County:

DISTRICT 2:

Joshua Thomas, 57.1%

Lupi Grady, 42.6 %

DISTRICT 3:

Pamela Boozer-Strother, 56.0%

Juwan Blocker, 43.6%

DISTRICT 6:

Belinda Queen, 53.5%

Carolyn Boston, 46.0%

DISTRICT 9:

Sonya Williams, 65.5%

Arun Puracken, 33.7%

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Question 1: Four Facts About the Casino Lock-Box Initiative

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by Llew Brown and David Duba

The 2018 mid-term elections will be held Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. In this election cycle, voters will make a number of choices that will impact public education in Maryland for years to come. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that the first amendment listed on the ballot is related to education funding, a key issue across the country in 2018. This past spring, teachers participated in large scale protests and went on strike in six separate states. These protests were inspired by wages being below the cost of living for school personnel and inadequate budgets for classroom supplies. They coincided with an incident here in Prince George’s County involving the inflation of pay for central office employees, and the early closure of schools throughout the county during the first week of classes due to an inability to adequately cool aging facilities. Given the array of issues facing public education, it’s reasonable to ask, “Where will money to fix public school issues come from, and how can we ensure adequate and equitable funding?” Read further to review a bit of history related to the use of casino funds, and the potential impact of question 1 on the future of public education funding in Maryland.

What is Question 1?

Question 1 on the ballot proposes a constitutional amendment that requires the governor to use casino revenue to supplement funding for prekindergarten through grade 12 in public schools, beyond the minimum levels prescribed by current funding formulas. Sometimes referred to as the “casino lockbox” amendment, passage of this ballot initiative could steer millions of dollars from casino revenues to fund public education.

Didn’t the law already require casino money to support education?

In 2008, voters decided to legalize gambling in the state of Maryland. Revenue from taxes on gambling was since added to the state budget each year. However, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, general tax revenue that was used to fund education prior to 2009 has been regularly diverted from education funding as casino tax revenue has increased. Money that used to be spent on education from the general tax revenue is being diverted to other projects like road construction and employee salaries. Put another way, gambling revenue has replaced education funding, not increased it. By voting yes on Question 1, money from casino revenue will be used to supplement funding for education, per an amendment to the Maryland constitution.

How much money is at stake? How can the money be used?

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Fixing Outdated Homework Policy is a Win for Everybody

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by Meredith Kaunitz

The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Did you know that the Administrative Procedure for the Assignment of Homework (AP No. 6154) for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has not been updated since 1983? I’m not one for fixing what isn’t broken but there have been enough advances in evidence- based research in the past 35 years that it is clearly time to revisit.

The third edition of the book The Battle Over Homework, by Dr. Harris Cooper of Duke University, recommends certain specific guidelines for policy makers[1]. Among them is the recommendation that school systems set upper limits for the amount of homework that gets assigned according to developmental stage. It is called the “10-minute Rule,” and is described in the book on p. 92:

The rule conveys to students and parents that each night they should expect all homework assignments together to last about as long as 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level. So, first graders could expect 10 minutes per night, second graders could expect 20 minutes, third graders 30 minutes, and so on. The rule is attractive because it is simple to communicate while also being consistent with research regarding both the length and frequency of assignments.

Currently there are no upper limits on the amount of homework that can be assigned in PGCPS. The recommendation comes from evidence that there is something called the “point of diminishing returns.” Anybody who has studied or worked in business knows this concept. At some point, your strategy for reaching your goal begins to cost more than the benefit and the benefit you are realizing gets smaller and smaller until it is non-existent. This means that after 10 minutes of studying your first grader is no longer learning anything. The same is true for a high school student after 2-hours of studying.

It is true that every assignment will take some students longer than others and that there is no way to predict specifically how long any one assignment will take each individual student. That is where teacher flexibility comes in. Some teachers make adjustments according to the individual needs of students with confidence that they know from their expertise they are doing the right thing. Others look to the procedures to find out what they are “allowed to do”. If they don’t see it explicitly written that they can or should take a specific action, they are reluctant to make adjustments for individual students.

This is especially true for students who do not have any diagnosis and explicit protections, such as an IEP or 504 plan. Teachers and principals may be afraid of overstepping their authority and getting in trouble. Clarifying what adjustments teachers and principals are empowered to take will only help prevent unnecessary conflict over homework. The homework policy as written states several points already supporting these ideas:

Procedure IV. A
Homework should be carefully planned and directed by the teacher in terms of:

  1. The achievement levels and skill needs of individual students.
  2. The interests of individual students . . .

5. Out-of-school time and facilities available for home student out-of-school activities.

Procedure IV. B

The following criteria are recommended to all teachers for the assignment of homework:

3. Individual differences and needs of students must be recognized in marking homework assignments just as they must be recognized in other phases of the educational process.

10. The length of time required to prepare the assignments should be given careful consideration. Assignments should be reasonable in scope, and geared to the age, ability level and attention span of the student.

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Community Listening Sessions Give Parents Opportunity for Advocacy

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by Khadija Bowen

On Monday evening Dr. Goldson, Interim CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), held her second of three listening sessions to hear input from parents and community members on how the administration can improve the school system. Her executive team showed up, school board member Raaheela Ahmed showed up, and delegates, county council and city council members were in attendance. But who wasn’t there? The community! There were many empty seats in the auditorium. To put it into perspective, the listening session was slotted to conclude at 8pm, and we were out of there by 7:30pm.

That I am concerned and disappointed is an understatement. With all of the grumbling, news headlines and negative social media posts that are floating around concerning PGCPS, I would have anticipated a huge turnout at the opportunity to speak with Dr Goldson personally.

This brings me to ponder on what the real issue is with our school system. Is it really poor administrators and teachers, or is at least part of the problem the lack of parent and community involvement? Until we all realize that we have a personal stake and interest in the well-being and success of our schools, our system will never reach the exceptional status that it is capable of.

I am proud that I made an effort to voice my concerns tonight. I left the session with guarantees from the executive office of changes that were to come. I received more cards and cell phone numbers than my card holder could handle. Best of all, I left with a sense that something is changing, and changing for the better!

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Our Questions and Answers with the 2018 Board of Education Candidates

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Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools sent each board of education candidate a series of questions in advance of the 2018 primary election. Their responses were published on this blog in May. Candidates who advanced to the general election were given a chance to update their answers, and their responses were reposted in October and are linked below.

Questions

  • Tell us about your background and your plans to move our school system forward. Why do you want to be on the Board of Education?
  • What would be your top three priorities while serving on the board, if elected?
  • What qualities do you believe are most important in a Chief Executive Officer?
  • If you had the opportunity to chair one of the existing Board of Education committees, which would you choose and why?
  • What are your impressions of the current level of parent engagement in our schools, and what ideas do you have for improving/encouraging parent and community engagement?
  • What are your ideas for addressing inadequate facilities and alleviating overcrowding, while communities wait for new school construction and renovation to take place?
  • Name one book you have recently read. What did you learn from it?
  • There have been questions surrounding graduation rates and grade fixing in Prince George’s County. According to the WABE report, Prince George’s County students continually scored among the lowest on the SAT. What can the school system do to improve the quality of a Prince George’s County education?
  • Many specialty programs (e.g. language immersion, performing arts programs) have waitlists because demand exceeds the current capacity, and some students travel long distances to attend a specialty school. Do you support the expansion of specialty schools? Why or why not?

Candidate Responses

District 2:

Lupi Grady

(Joshua Thomas did not respond to our survey.)

District 3:

Pamela Boozer-Strother

(Juwan Blocker did not respond to our survey.)

District 6:

Carolyn Boston

Belinda Queen

District 9:

Arun Puracken

Sonya Williams

 

Q & A with Sonya Williams, District 9 Board of Education Candidate

Sonya Williams (1)This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with the 2018 Prince George’s County Board of Education candidates. Sonya Williams is the incumbent from District 9 (see district map here) running in the general election. Ms. Williams answered questions generated by members of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. An earlier version of this post was published in May.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools does not endorse or oppose any candidate for the Board of Education.

Tell us about your background and your plans to move our school system forward. Why do you want to be on the Board of Education?

BACKGROUND: Born in DC, raised in Prince George’s County since the age of 5, and educated through Prince George’s County Public Schools, I graduated from Crossland High School at the age of 16. I began my college career at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore studying Engineering. I received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering specializing in Project Management from the University of Maryland College Park. I also have a Masters Degree in International Organizational Leadership from Georgetown University.

As a Civil Engineer, I’ve worked on many projects throughout the county, state and nation. Most notable projects include working as an intern on the construction of the WSSC Headquarters building in Laurel, I was a part of the project management team on the construction of the first expansion of Pier C at BWI Airport, the construction of the International Terminal at BWI Airport, the development of Tanger Outlets and the Clipper Way road construction.

Through my career, I have managed organizations, teams and offices that have built structures, procured services and developed infrastructure. I have work with people of many and varied education levels, backgrounds, cultures and experiences. As a member of the board, it is important to have different perspectives, because as a leader of an organization as large as PGCPS with the diversity in students being serviced, parents, partners, employees and stakeholders, the ability to provide perspective and context.

FUTURE PLANS FORWARD: Since I became a board member, my primary focus has been infrastructure and structural change. The infrastructure of PGCPS is varied and fluctuates, from the types and age of our buildings, to the procedures use to perform the work. Our infrastructure and structures in place that impacts the operation and outcomes show the scars of too many stops and starts as leadership has changed through out the years. My goal is to focus on stabilizing the foundations in our systems so that real decisions can be made with clear information and integrity. What that means is that how information is shared is standardized, what type of information is shared is standardized, the frequency in which the information is shared is standardized, and how we report on the work (data and outcomes) is standardize. Once the standards are clear and concise, we can begin to show and move towards the goal of success.

My accomplishments thus far in this direction since I became a board member has been spearheading changes to how and when the Board budget priorities are incorporated in the budget development process, changes to staff reports to the board, changes to agenda item details, attachments and other information to make us more effective decision makers and inquire with more pinpoint detail. I plan to continue that process to make structural changes so that the work of the Board is more informed, efficient and effective.

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