by Genevieve Demos Kelley and Amy Alford
Federal funding has been withdrawn from the Prince George’s County Public Schools Head Start program, after PGCPS failed to correct problems identified in a federal investigation conducted in February. The school system has been cited for failing to “report instances of child abuse and neglect to Federal, State, and local authorities as required by applicable laws; therefore, putting children at significant risk for mistreatment and abuse’ (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 4).
The federal Office of Head Start sent a letter to Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks, outlining findings that point to failure failure at several levels of organization within the school system.
Failure to Report Use of Humiliation as Punishment
- On December 17, 2015, a teacher at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center forced a 3-year-old child to mop up his own urine, while still wearing his wet clothing. The teacher used her personal cell phone to take photos of the child, and sent them to the child’s mother, including the text abbreviation “LOL,” along with a description of the incident.
- The child’s parent was upset about the matter and on December 22, she spoke to the Family Services Worker (FSW), a PGCPS employee assigned to family-based case management. The FSW “likely discouraged the parent from making a report at the time, as she told the parent she would have to report it as a mandatory reporter” (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 3).
- Several weeks later, on January 12, the parent did make a report to the FSW. However, there is no record that the FSW immediately reported the incident to the Maryland Department of Human Resources Child Protective Services (CPS). Maryland law requires that educators make an immediate report of suspected abuse by telephone, and a written report within 48 hours of the telephone contact.
- The Regional Office of Head Start learned of the incident when the child’s parent notified the office, via telephone, on February 5.
- The Program Supervisor of PGCPS’s Head Start program did provide some documentation, including a timeline, to the Regional Office of Head Start on February 10. However, PGCPS refused to provide additional documentation after multiple requests were made. This “limit[ed] the Administration for Children and Family’s ability to perform its oversight responsibilities to ensure Federal requirements were met and children were provided safe and secure environments” (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 4)
- Though the child was forced to mop his urine in an open area of the classroom, two assistant teachers claimed that they did not witness the incident.
Failure to Ensure Teachers Maintained Confidentiality
- It was reported that teachers in the Head Start Program and regular volunteers in the school system took inappropriate photographs of children (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 5).
- The Regional Office requested that PGCPS provide its policies and procedures regarding taking photographs of children in the Head Start program. PGCPS refused.
Failure to Ensure that Teachers Use Positive Methods of Discipline
- On June 9, 2016, two children in the Head Start Program at James Ryder Randall Elementary School were forced by a teacher and an assistant teacher to stand in the classroom holding objects above their heads. According to the report, “The first child was crying and calling the teacher’s name, and the teacher yelled at the child and instructed her to continue holding the object. The second child accidentally dropped the object and was also yelled at and instructed to continue to hold the object (see”Overview of Findings,” p. 7).
Failure to Ensure that No Child is Left Unsupervised
- On June 9, 2016, a five-year-old child walked home after being left unsupervised during school hours. The child had been released from the nurse’s office and told to return to her classroom, but the class was at the playground. Not being able to find her class, the child returned to the nurse’s office and was unable to open the door. She left the building and walked home (see “Overview of Findings,” p. 8).
- This incident was reported to the Regional Office on the same day by the PGCPS Head Start Director.
Read the entire letter from the Office of Head Start to Board Chair Segun Eubanks, as well as the enclosed report, below.
Read the August 17 Washington Post article, “Feds end Head Start grant after finding schools humiliated kids, used corporal punishment,” here.
Watch the August 17 WUSA 9 report here.
Read the statement from PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell here.
Read the PGCABS blog post regarding a series of incidents at Dora Kennedy French Immersion, “When Teachers Hit Children: One Parent’s Experience,” here.