The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
by Justine C.
In response to the horrific incidents at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School and the resulting Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Student Safety Task Force Final Report (completed May 2016), the PGCPS administration revised Administrative Procedure 5145 “Reporting Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect” in August 2016.
According to Dr. Kevin Maxwell in an email to me dated January 18, “added emphasis was placed on the training of all employees to ensure that as a district we are providing the safest possible atmosphere for all students.” Maxwell continued, “while the large number of reports that have been generated as a result of the renewed emphasis on training, could be viewed as an unintended consequence, it only takes one incident, to one child to demonstrate how important it is for us as a district to remain diligent in this area.”
It’s hard to argue with that.
But I believe that PGCPS needs to be honest that there has been a significant overcorrection and that this is negatively impacting classrooms and students across the county. In fact, it was reported at a public meeting with PGCPS officials hosted by our local PTA on February 1 that Child Protective Services (CPS) has told PGCPS that many reports are not abuse and are not even reportable offenses. I can attest to how disruptive the procedures changes have been.
During the fall and winter of this school year, one of my child’s teachers had to take an extended period of family leave. This resulted in the class having a number of different substitutes of varying temperaments and abilities. There was general confusion on a daily basis about whether or not there would even be a substitute for that day. The lack of continuous instruction meant very little material was covered. If a substitute did not pick up the job for the day, students in the affected class were given a packet of work and sent to sit in other classrooms. When a 9-year-old bemoans the fact that they aren’t learning any math, you know that there is a problem.
Just prior to the winter break, my other child’s teacher disappeared. After parent inquiries were made, it was discovered that the teacher had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Again, the students were subject to the vagaries of the substitute teaching pool. Other staff had to develop lesson plans based on the curriculum, grade papers, and input grades into School Max, in addition to their regular duties. And once again, students recognized that the worksheets they were doing were in no way equal to the exciting projects, lessons, and differentiated instruction they had previously enjoyed.
How did this situation evolve?
While I am still somewhat murky on the details of how reports regarding child abuse are made and what the county considers to be abuse, it is clear that these investigations take a significant amount of time due to the sheer number of offices involved. A report goes directly to CPS, who must investigate and give their findings to PGCPS’ Security Services. Employee Relations must also make a determination, and then the area instructional leader and principal weigh in on the outcome.
A Maryland Public Information Act request revealed that as of January 31, 2017, there have been 296 teachers placed on paid administrative leave for the school year, and as of that date, 160 remained on paid administrative leave. At the February 1 PTA meeting, Cesar Pacheco, Assistant Director of Security Services, stated that his office currently has nearly 700 pending cases pertaining to staff throughout the system. This reflects a marked increase from seven years ago when the office handled 250 cases for the entire year.
Having such a large increase in teachers on administrative leave has strained the substitute teaching pool. PGCPS’ Substitute Office has been hard at work increasing the minimum requirements of substitute teachers in the county, such as now requiring at least 60 college credits and preferably a Bachelor’s degree. They have also increased the required number of days a substitute must teach to 45. Over the summer, the office hired an additional 1,000 substitute teachers and continues to aggressively recruit.
Yet this has not been enough. Substitute teachers have the discretion to pick and choose when and where they will work. For situations where a long-term substitute is needed, there is little incentive for a substitute to commit to the entire period of the absence. Current policy requires a substitute teacher to be working for the same teacher for 16 consecutive days before they are eligible for the modestly larger paycheck that accompanies long-term subbing.
PGCPS responded to a Public Information Act request about what guidance has been disseminated to school principals regarding teachers being placed on administrative leave, indicating there are no such documents regarding filling the temporary vacancy caused by the teacher’s absence, creating lesson plans, inputting grades into SchoolMax, or reintroducing the teacher into the classroom at the end of the investigation. During the February 1 public PTA meeting, Dr. Helen Coley acknowledged that communication with parents in affected classrooms has been lacking. As a result, standard boilerplate text has been developed for administrators to give to parents.
I believe that PGCPS needs to continue to take a hard look at the procedures and policies surrounding reporting suspected child abuse and search for solutions to mitigate the disruption to students in the classroom and ensure continuous quality instruction. What has occurred over this school year is simply not good enough. My children, and many others across the county, have missed out on invaluable instruction. Our students deserve better.
I end with some thoughts on how to improve the current situation.
- Assign a long-term substitute immediately to the class when a teacher is placed on administrative leave. Provide the principal with additional support from math and reading specialists if needed and if there are not enough resources at the school.
- Reduce the number of days required for substitute teachers to reach the higher pay level from the current mandate of 16 consecutive days.
- Communicate quickly, openly, and sensitively with parents and students about the teacher’s absence.
- Develop and use a case tracking system so that general, statistical information is available on investigation outcomes and the amount of time for investigations. This is necessary if PGCPS wants to have effective policies and procedures. In response to a Public Information Act request for the average amounts of time investigations were taking and how long it took teachers to be able to return to the classrooms after being cleared of wrongdoing, PGCPS responded, “upon further review with our staff, we do not have the statistical information sought in this request.” PGCPS was also unable to answer how many cases had been resolved without sanction or reprimand in that same Public Information Act request, stating “we do not have a summary or database that describes the disposition of cases in response to this request.” This is troubling. In order to fully understand how well a reporting policy and training is working, there must be data available to study.
- To help mitigate the substitute teacher shortage, consider assigning substitute teachers to specific districts or areas to ensure there are resources throughout the county. For schools that have low response rates from substitutes, perhaps specifically assigning substitutes to the school or implementing some sort of incentives would be useful.
- Four Ways to Reduce Disruption When Teachers are on Long-Term Leave, a PGCABS blog post
- Teacher Pushed Out of Head Start Kept in School System for Months, Washington Post
- Responses to the two Public Information Requests referred to in this post are embedded below.
This post has been edited to reflect new information about paid vs unpaid leave.
6 thoughts on “PGCPS Grappling with Large Number of Teachers on Administrative Leave”
Totally agree with you. My son’s teacher is still on Admin leave from September. I don’t even expect him back. No updates are being provided. His ELA (English Language Arts) teacher was a sub and left in September for a permanent position. They had a sub who worked until November 8th. The new teacher was hired and started on the 9th of November. He left December 17th and took a job as a principal at an international school in Tanzania and then they brought the same sub back in. She taught up until January when she accepted another position. My son is in 3rd grade and his main teacher is still out on admin leave and he’s had 3 teachers for ELA. Grades are not being recorded and assignments are not being sent home. I’m in constant contact with the program coordinator and principal because this is beyond ridiculous. He now has the media specialist teaching him until they can hire another teacher because the kids have had 3 teachers and at the time we were only half-way through the school year.
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I completely emphathize with you. It’s beyond frustrating. If you haven’t already, I would suggest also filing a complaint online through the Ombudsman’s Office http://www.pgcps.org/ombudsman/. They will forward your problem to the appropriate personnel within the administration (like heads of HR). Maybe if enough people bring their attention to these serious problems, they will enact changes.
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A protest was staged at Dora Kennedy French Immersion on Friday, 3/3 due to this exact situation. Our teacher was cleared after a two-month investigation. However, instead of returning to the classroom, she was transferred to a different school. This is a highly-sought and highly-respected teacher by current and previous students and their parents. There were 11 parents at the protest. The county and school have been essentially unresponsive.
It’s my understanding that once the investigation is completed, the principal and instructional director can then weigh in on whether or not they want the teacher back in the classroom or if they would like the teacher transferred. Has a permanent, replacement teacher been obtained?
Due to the increase of administrative leave that many good teachers are not only seeing but also hearing about, you may see a mass exodus of good teachers leaving this County. Many stuck it out during the hard times and had their steps, pay increase, suspended with the promise that they would get them back. A 13 year good experienced teacher that stayed in the County is being paid at a 9 year level. They can leave this County for another and not only get paid at the correct step/level but mat also receive a bonus. This also effects their retirement due to the fact they receive a percentage of their highest pay of the last 3years before retirement. This County is getting a bad reputation among experienced teachers and new teachers. So we will not get interest from good qualified teachers due to the pay and administrative leave issues. You have teachers with years of experience being placed on administrative leave and being under paid. Would you want to work for a company that treated it’s employees like the County is treating it’s teachers?
Increasing the number of days substitute teachers have to work to 45 was disastrous. The intent was to get more coverage on the cheap. The unintended consequence is that fewer people signed up to be substitute teachers. Net effect is the opposite of what was intended.
Assigning substitutes to a bad school, without a substantial pay incentive, will have the same effect – people will stop substitute teaching. They can choose to work for another county next year instead.
An easy, obvious solution is to decrease the minimum number of required days substitute teachers have to work, and then add a financial incentive for hitting 30 days, 45 days, and 60 days.
People with bachelor’s degrees should have a lower minimum than people without bachelor’s degrees. People with a Masters or Doctorate should have an even lower minimum number of days. Full-type federal employees might be willing to arrange their schedule to substitute for 1 day per month, but 45 days is out of the question. Kids would benefit from having a PhD biologist teach their science class, or having a PhD statistician teach their math class.