Notes from the Oct. 4 Tele-Town Hall Meeting on Student Safety

On Tuesday, October 4, CEO Kevin Maxwell hosted a Telephone Town Hall Meeting on student safety. Parents were invited to ask questions about plans to improve student safety in Prince George’s County Public Schools.

by Laura Rammelsberg

Speakers: Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO
Dr. Segun Eubanks, PGCPS Board of Education Chair
Rex Barrett, Director of Security

12,000 callers on the Telephone Town Hall

Dr. Maxwell

PGCPS Facts:
131,000 Students
20,000 Employees
200+ schools
One of the largest school districts in the country

This is Dr. Maxwell’s 4th year as CEO of the district, and there was a lot of work that needed to be done since he became CEO. He wants safe classrooms and high quality education for all children. He was angered by all of these situations and his heart goes out to the children and families that have been mistreated.

Employees are being trained to know what to do, when to do it, and how to report. Some employees didn’t understand their responsibility in regards to reporting.

They are in the process of implementing goals set forth by the Student Safety Task Force.

Dr. Eubanks

Every one of the 131,000 students in the district deserved love, respect, a high quality education, and safety that they are entitled to and the School Board will take the steps to make sure that happens.

The district will move beyond this time stronger, safer more loving than it has ever been. But this will take work.

The School Board knows that they need to regain parents’ trust and they want and will work to gain it back. 

Mr. Barrett

Significant improvements have been made to school district security since Dr. Maxwell became CEO. Cameras at every school.

Security staff are in uniforms, so people know who they are. They train with the police department on active shooter response twice a year, do other training including conflict-resolution training. They do lockdown drills at different times of the day four times a year.

Recent events — social media threats. The police department has a system that intercepts threats to schools. “Say something, see something” campaign. Students and staff report suspicious activity. Many students told school about the current threat. Five arrests so far, and more arrests are coming. Additional police presence has been at all of the schools, so parents and children felt safe.

Questions and Answers 

(answers provided by Dr. Maxwell unless indicated otherwise)

Q: Safety Communication — how is info given re: bomb scare or inappropriate action of staff towards students?

A: Dr. Maxwell agrees communication has not been great or timely. Administration has been reviewing timelines. In re: to bomb scares, they work with law enforcement, but they can’t release some information as investigations are sometimes ongoing.

Q: How is risk assessed at each school — people walking in & out?

A: They are assessing this at the moment.

Q: How are teachers protected against allegations?

A: The PGCPS has a responsibility to make sure children are safe first and foremost. Teachers will be removed if it is deemed that children are unsafe. They are working to make sure assessment and disciplinary action are taken in a timely manner.

Q: (from Spanish Line) Why wasn’t there enough police presence in Bladensburg area on Monday?

A: Social media threats began on Saturday and they immediately worked with Chief of Police and the Police Department. They increased police presence at schools that had threats directed at them. As a result of collaboration, two arrests have been made yesterday and three more today. Parents need to collaborate with school to let children know what is appropriate social media behavior.

Q: Incident happened at child’s school in September. It took three to four weeks for parents to be notified about what happened. Why did it take so long to notify parents?

A: There shouldn’t be a four-week lag when child abuse is alleged. Should be reported to CPS in 24 hours. In re: to buses — people review the video from the buses, so that might take a little time, but should not take 4 weeks.

Q: Staff Training — What type of training are teachers and staff receiving as far as safety is concerned, and how often are they trained?

A: Dr. Maxwell: Teachers and staff are receiving significant amount of training on reporting and conduct. Also, training about safe handling re: bleeding, child abuse, bullying, etc. Early childhood teachers get positive behavior training.

Mr. Barrett: Emergency Plan and Crisis Training happens. Four lockdown drills every year— training video 2 weeks in advance sent to each school. Principal goes through that with staff. Mandatory Reporting training is done online so it can be tracked that they did it.

Dr. Tally: All staff have taken the abuse training to make sure it is more in line with what is required by Social Services (who provided input on the training). All staff must take this. Some face-to-face (new employees, school nurses), some online. Assessments given afterwards. Goal is to ensure that the staff have the capacity to know WHEN there is a problem and WHO should be involved.

Q: Bus is late for student that receives breakfast at school. What can be done about this?

A: Dr. Maxwell asked what bus route and he will personally look into it. They have hired a few more bus drivers; they are training drivers and making routes efficient. 

Q (Spanish Line): Latino community doesn’t get information in Spanish. What is being done to improve communication to these families.

A: All of system communication is translated into English and Spanish. Working with community partners as well to get the word out. If your school isn’t communicating with you in this way, contact the administration so they are aware of this and can follow up on it.

Q: What is district doing to assist the victims? Executive team is not working. Her son is in preschool. She doesn’t feel he is safe.

A: He [Dr. Maxwell] reached out to families who were impacted by Head Start issues. Reach out to administration and let them know the name of your school.

Dr. Adrian Talley, Executive Director of Student Services: I also reached out to Head Start families. Social Services is involved and counseling has also been made available. They want children to want to be in school.

Q: What safety measures are being taken to make portable classrooms safe?

A: They want all portable classrooms to be fenced off. There are outside cameras so they can observe what is going on near those classrooms.

Q: What is procedure when there is an incident? How are parents alerted?

A: Go to pgcps.org. They post important information there, and they also provide mobile text alerts. Make sure your contact number that you gave to the school is up to date. Working at increasing their own social media presence as well — tweets — also backpack letters go home with the children. Parents should check their backpacks regularly.

Q: Front Office — First impression is that front office. She’s been to some schools and the tone did not make her feel comfortable. She saw a parent being chastised and dismissed by the employees by the front office staff.

A: Their front office staff needs to be customer service oriented. They need to guide parents to what they need to do and be responsive to those needs. He has spoken to principals about this. They will provide additional training to front office staff. Secret Shopper group is going to visit offices around the county and rate the responses they get from school offices.

Q (Spanish Line): What are they doing in schools that have parts of buildings that are rented out? 

A: Charter/specialty schools have same security as normal schools; it is required. Let him know about schools you are concerned about in re: to this.

Q: Communication with schools/law enforcement after hours — has the county considered adding additional communication venues for parents/students. Online tip website? Rather than calling 911 at 10 pm at night about a school threat. 

A: New Student Safety Task Force has link on PGCPS website. He will follow up with others about her suggestion in regards to after-hours reporting.

Q: Vetting employees — employees who took training but still didn’t do what they should shouldn’t be teaching.

A: Vetting is an important requirement. All undergo a background check. The early education staff have additional checks as well. Training is provided. If people are undergoing training and not doing what they are supposed to do, they have been dismissed.

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