Follow-Up Needed After Last Year’s Changes in PGCPS Recess Policy

playground_6394.v01b.25percentLori Morrow presented this testimony during the public comment portion of the July 12 Prince George’s County Board of Education work meeting.

Good evening Dr. Eubanks, Board Members, Dr. Maxwell, staff and community members,

My name is Lori Morrow.  I have been a PGCPS parent for 10 years and am active with the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools. I chose to speak about recess tonight because it is a concern I continue to hear from parents, and it is also something principals have the ability to change for the upcoming school year if they wish.

Last summer, PGCPS updated its Health and Wellness Procedure 0116, and one of the changes was a recommendation to provide 30 minutes for elementary recess, with the minimum required time increasing from 15 to 20 minutes. This spring I submitted a Public Information Act request to find out how many schools actually met that 30-minute recommendation. The answer I received, and I quote: “Upon review, there are no records available to show school responses for compliance with the updated AP 0116 for this request.” I take that to mean the administration does not actually know.

Included in my reply was the spreadsheet of recess times by school prior to the update.  It was enlightening to learn that before 2017, approximately HALF of PGCPS elementary schools had 15-minute recess. At the same time, a quarter of schools managed to provide 30 minutes. With studies that show increased recess can improve student focus and academics, why were so many principals content to do the minimum, and are they still just meeting the minimum?

We appreciate that the wellness policy was updated last year, but I would love to see the administration and the Board of Education do more to encourage all principals to provide 30-minute recess. For the parents and community members out there, don’t settle for the minimum. If you believe kids should have 30 minutes for recess, advocate for it at your school. The framework is there and the principal has the authority to make it happen. I also learned there are no MSDE or PGCPS policies prohibiting middle school principals from implementing a break or recess period. I would love to see some of them experiment with schedules that give middle school students a mental break from their hour-long classes.

Ultimately I’m disappointed because this reinforced complaints that even when the policies and procedures are in place, schools may not be following them. For example 0116 also states that “Withholding of recess as a punishment is prohibited,” but many people, including my rising 5th grader, have examples where it is used that way either for individual students or the entire class.

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Protecting Due Process for Prince George’s County Teachers

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The author is an employee of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) who wishes to remain anonymous. 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.

The past few years have certainly been traumatic for Prince George’s County Public Schools.. Educators, parents, and students in PGCPS have had to weather storm after storm after storm. For most of the issues that have come across the public’s attention, there are parallels with other school districts. Yet there is one issue that in its scope is truly unique to Prince George’s County Public Schools: the placement of hundreds of its staff on administrative leave, often for months at a time, during the 2016-2017 school year.

It is difficult to find another district that had an administrative leave crisis like this one. In 2014,the Baltimore Sun reported leave statistics for some other districts in the region, with Baltimore County taking the lead at 230 employees on leave in a year at a district similar in size to PGCPS. Most recently, Providence Public School District in Rhode Island had a spike in administrative leave cases this year involving new reporting requirements. However, the district revised its policy by the middle of December, as it was quick to recognize the inherent problem in having too many teachers on leave.

In the case of Prince George’s County, a whole school year went by and local news outlets had to run several stories before district leaders would even acknowledge that there was a problem. In fact, a June 1, 2017 release from PGCPS defended the district’s handling of the situation, saying “No price is too high for a child’s well-being.”

It’s an interesting statement, considering the thousands of students whose academic well-being were harmed by the sudden departure of their highly qualified teachers, often for weeks or months at a time. Not only did the leave situation cost the district almost $10 million, it also did serious damage to the academic progress of students in all grades. Substitute teachers work hard in challenging circumstances, but they are not paid to be the full-time professionals that are expected to be there to serve the students of Prince George’s County.

There have been varying reports of the number of teachers on leave in 2016-2017.  The Washington Post reported the number to be in the range of 400 to 500 out of over 800 total employees placed on leave.  Recently, the Prince George’s County Education Association (PGCEA) has stated in its communicationsthat over 600 teachers were placed on leave that year. If we take the PGCEA figure, multiply that by five instructional hours in a day, and then multiply that figure by a ballpark estimate of 50 instructional days lost per teacher on leave, the product is 75,000 hours of lost instruction by certified teachers. The impact is then multiplied by the number of students affected. While many elementary school teachers are in self-contained classrooms, PGCPS often has students in upper elementary grades go to different teachers for different subjects, and teachers at this level often interact with 50 or more students on a daily basis. Middle and high school teachers frequently teach six classes, with their impact reaching well over a hundred students.

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More Than a Statistic: Observations from a PGCPS Employee on Administrative Leave

IMG_6404The author is an employee of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) who wishes to remain anonymous. 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.

Over recent months, media attention has focused on what employees of Prince George’s County have known for a long time: the problem of having too many school staff on administrative leave. According to the Washington Post, as of June 6, there were 142 teachers and 91 other employees off the job.

I am part of that statistic.

I will share part of my story. Of course, there are very strict limits to what I can share. However, with the massive number of employees who have gone through what I am experiencing, it is important for policy makers and the public to know the issue from the perspective of someone in my position.

First, some perspective on the known statistics:

There were 848 PGCPS employees placed on administrative leave this year. That means 4.24%, or about one out of every twenty-four PGCPS employees were paid for days, weeks, or even months to not be at work serving the children of Prince George’s County. To put this in perspective, if students were absent at that rate, many of our schools would not meet their own student attendance targets.

There were some cases where the wrongdoing was real. Of the 615 cases that have been resolved, 196 resulted in a reprimand, suspension, retirement, resignation, or termination. Another 170 or so resulted in a letter of professional counsel. In all, violations of PGCPS policy were found in about 60% of the cases, but only about 10% of the cases rose to the level of requiring the employee leave the school system permanently. 

From my perspective, based on past results and not on the merits of my case, I have a 10% chance of needing to search for a new job. I have about a 50% chance of having done something wrong while still keeping my job, but was it really worth having me out of the classroom to determine this? I have about a 40% chance of being completely cleared, in which case my time removed from the classroom has been completely worthless to me and detrimental to the education of the students I serve.

The logic of having the staff member removed from the schools during the investigation is that the employee may interfere with the investigation. This makes sense when an investigation is done in an expeditious manner. The interruption will only last for a few days, and if there is no fault found or only enough fault to warrant a reprimand or letter of counsel, the employee can return to duty in a timely manner.

However, when there is a known backlog of cases and it is widely understood by all parties that the process can take weeks or months, this brings into question whether the use of administrative leave has been misapplied. Certainly, it was necessary in at least 10% of the cases. But what about the other 90%? Was it truly helpful to have the employee off the job for that length of time? What could have been done differently so instruction or other important services were not interrupted or diminished?

Good teachers know that if you are going to crack down on a problem behavior, you have to plan for a timely and efficient enforcement of your class rules. Otherwise, you are not going to be respected by the students, especially those who are trying to do their best and feel like they have all been collectively thrown into a toxic pool of suspicion because of the bad behavior of a few. Why, then, did PGCPS not use that same logic and realize that if they were going to have more reporting of suspected misconduct, they needed to be prepared to handle the increased caseload?

Again, I can’t give details about the nature of my case, but the nature of how the process has been handled is very instructive. When I was put on administrative leave, I was given a vague verbal explanation of the allegations. To this date, I have nothing in writing stating the nature of the allegations. I was told not to have any contact with colleagues, students, or parents and to remain off PGCPS property until advised otherwise.

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Notes on the May 11 Board of Education Meeting

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the meeting as a PDF file, go here . To view in BoardDocs, go here.

Board members Raaheela Ahmed, Edward Burroughs, Patricia Eubanks, Sinora Hernandez, David Murray, Lupi Quinteros-Grady, Curtis Valentine, K. Alexander Wallace, Sonia Williams, and Chair Segun Eubanks were in attendance.

At the beginning of the video of the meeting, Report of the CEO.

On this day, 93 graduating seniors were honored who have worked through Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection at their senior celebration. He thanked entire staff at Hillside for expanding these students’ education opportunities.

He also visited the 2017 student-built house, which was built and designed by PGCPS students. Thanked the partners who helped make this opportunity a success.  This was the 41st house the students built. Every house on the cul-de-sac was built by PGCPS students. They have secured 5 more lots nearby so the work will continue going forward. The house is for sale for $459,000.

He recognized all outstanding students and employees for employee recognition dinner. May 25 at Martin Crosswinds in Greenbelt. Tickets are available at pgcps.org deadline to register is May 19.

Please thank a teacher during Teacher Appreciation Week. National School Nurses day was also celebrated.

Special Olympics had 600 PGCPS students participate in the spring games at the Sports and Learning Complex this year. Students trained for twelve weeks, coached by special education program motor development staff.

Prom and Graduation season is here. The 2017 graduation dates are on the PGCPS website here. Parents please speak to children about celebrating in a responsible manner.

At 4:52 in the video, Newsbreak.

Declarations of Independence (Senior Signing Day) at Oxon Hill and Flowers HS:

Dr. Eubanks’s comment about video: Exciting time for our seniors. The speaker at Flowers HS was Dr. John King, former U.S. Secretary of Education. We are attracting some of the greatest minds in the U.S. to celebrate with us.

At 10:21, Legislative Report — Demetria Tobias, Associate General Counsel, Legislative Programs

There is a report in April 25 posted with details about Maryland state budget, local bills and state bills. She is highlighting a few things this evening.

Local Bills — Took many positions, based on Board of Education’s legislative platform.

*HB 1568 Work Group on Transportation for Middle and High School Students in PG County — Look at overlaps in bus routes, look at systems used to transport students, cost savings for transporting middle and high school students. Report due by August.

*Bill that Impacted BOE structure — Bill as amended sought to change election of vice chair, override votes for recommendations by CEO. This bill did not pass. Law as written is what remains. Final report from school system, CEO and BOE due by Dec. 2017. BOE can provide feedback at that point.

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Notes on the Apr 25 Board of Education Meeting

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the April 25 Board meeting, go here.

Board members Patricia Eubanks (ill), Lupi Quinteros-Grady (ill), Mary Roche (expecting baby, due this week), and Beverly Anderson were not present.

All items under 8.0 Governance struck from the agenda.

At 17:03 in the video. Report of the Chair

Honored the lives of three middle schoolers who passed away recently.

This was the 31st season of the Science Bowl for PGCPS. Glen Arden Woods ES and Martin Luther King Jr. MS won the bowl this season. Congratulated the students.

Congratulated Brandywine ES, local partners and community volunteers for their outdoor garden/classroom. This effort reflects a great partnership with a community who helped to make the school more beautiful and ready-to-learn.

At 21:19. Board Member Raaheela Ahmed — April 12 she co-sponsored Bowie HS Annex challenge to raise their GPAs. 100 students enrolled in the challenge and 30% achieved the goal. This grassroots collaboration was a success, and Board Member Ahmed would like to see more projects like it across the county. Important to encourage growth in our students. Board Member Ahmed acknowledged some of the Bowie HS students and parents in the audience.

May 11 Board Meeting is at 5 pm.

At 23:53. Report of the CEO

PARCC is in progress in schools across the County. Students start this test in 3rd Grade. Parents should ensure students are well-rested.

Congratulated PGCPS Teacher of the Year Carolyn Marzke of Ridgecrest Elementary School, and the runners-up.

Washington Post Principal of the Year and Teacher of the Year — Denise Dunn, Principal of Ridgecrest Elementary School and teacher at Maria Wood of William Hall Academy were nominated for this honor and have made the list of finalists.

Please thank teachers during National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 8 – May 12). Theme is “Teachers Deliver.” Tag photos with #thankateacher to PGCPS twitter account (#PGCPS)

Legislative Report posted in BoardDocs, link to PDF here.

Board Committee Reports

At 27:43. Board Member Curtis Valentine, Chair of Policy & Legislative Committee — Established a priority at beginning of the year to review and assess current policies. Four main goals:

  1. student safety
  2. student equity
  3. health and wellness
  4. teacher quality and pipeline programs

Reviewed travel policy. Looked at Board Handbook to make sure meetings are timely and efficient. Active in participating in MD Legislative Session, testified in Annapolis. Represent Maryland Association of Boards of Education Legislative Committee. Review of minority-based enterprises policy to ensure equity. First Minority-based Enterprises Policy Advisory Board Meeting will be in May. Reviewing student safety/administrative leave policies. Rights of substitute teachers, rights of teachers to communicate with substitute in their absence. Ensuring timely case review. Their committee meetings are public and public can participate. Dates of their meetings are on their website. You can email him as well.

At 32:21. Board Vice Chair Boston, Chair of Governance Committee­ — Congratulated Mr. Brown and team for recognition they received for their finance work. This Committee identifies activities to increase knowledge and skill sets of Board members — professional development of the Board. Last report was in November. Held January committee meeting. Board retreat held on February 3-4. At the retreat, board reviewed book, Courageous Conversations on Race, by Glen Singleton, that anchored a conversation on equity. Also had CEO/Administration presentation on Strategic Plan, updates from all Board committee chairs on their committees. Board was briefed on internal / external communications. March and April meetings discussed equity and Equity Task Force. First meeting of Equity Task Force was held on April 1. This task force will report to Board on a monthly basis. The first report is due on April 1, 2018.

Public Comment on Non-Agenda Items

At 40:30Mt. Rainer K-6 Language Immersion — Parent would like to implement language immersion in Mt. Rainer ES. Cultural mix of PGC is quite vast, our greatest needs are for investments in the future for the county and the country. America is becoming more diverse and he applauds the Board for the programs they are implementing to help the students to learn better. He commends the CEO for his letter to the head of Homeland Security and drawing a line of safety around our community.

At 44:00. District Heights ES — Parent gave very emotional testimony about chemicals released within the school. It is not a safe environment. Contractors walking in and out without badges who don’t sign in and just walk through the building. The children need to be moved until the work is done. The chemicals released today were harmful. The parent and her children had headaches. Other children feeling sick. 40% of the teachers weren’t there because they are sick. It is not safe for the children to be in that building. The children are there to get an education and not to get sick or die. The band-aids are fine, but get the children out while the rest of the work is done. They need help and they need the Board to do something.

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PGCPS Responds to Concerns About Lead in Water

Earlier this month, Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools published a blog post about lead in the water in the county schools. Here is the response from the Office of Communications of Prince George’s County Public Schools:

Thanks for your post about the safety of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) students and staff.

Over the past 13 years, PGCPS has taken numerous steps to ensure the safety of drinking water in our buildings. Since 2004, PGCPS has implemented a methodical approach to water quality with drinking sources as our priority. We will soon launch the final phase of our four-pronged program. Prior actions have included sampling and testing all water sources; flushing, replacing or valving off fixtures; and providing bottled water when drinking water sources could not be cleared expeditiously. Our actions to date comply with EPA requirements.

The final phase of our water quality program will allow for retesting of all drinking sources currently in use and the installation of filtered water fountains throughout the system. You can find more information, including a timeline of steps taken to date, on the PGCPS website. We appreciate the community advocacy on this topic and the support from our government partners to complete this work.

Today, PGCPS issued a news release with further information about efforts to address water safety concerns.

What I Learned About Lead in the Water in Prince George’s County Schools

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The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the positions of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
Update: See PGCPS’s response to this post here.

by Theodora Scarato

After the story of the Flint Michigan water crisis unfolded in the media last year, I read a news story reporting that lead had been found in the water at Ardmore Elementary School and that water fountains and sinks had been turned off. I became curious. Was the drinking water in our county schools safe?

So in January of 2016 I decided to write to PGCPS CEO Dr. Maxwell and began a long inquiry asking what tests had been done in Prince George’s County Schools to measure for lead. Here is what I learned:

The school system performed water tests from 2009 to 2012 and found that at least 88 schools exceeded EPA allowable lead levels. (Read the list of “Prince George’s County Public Schools Fixtures that are Valved Off” which was sent to me from PGCPS). The majority of  schools with lead contamination are elementary schools.

As of December 2016, the school system had not done anything to remediate this other than simply to turn off faucets in the majority of these schools.

At first, PGCPS told me that they were fixing the lead problem. I was sent a document titled “PGCPS Lead in Water Program” that explained a four-phase plan to fix the lead problem. This document said that a Request for Proposals (RFP) had been submitted “to remediate the remaining classroom water fountains and sinks throughout the system.” This was “Phase Four” of the plan.

You can imagine my surprise to learn that in fact the information PGCPS had sent me was not accurate. When I asked PGCPS to share the details of the “Phase Four” plan, they responded on October 7, 2016 with an email saying that they had made a mistake.

According to this October email, the “RFP issued in 2012 was published but not awarded to an acceptable vendor. Staff prepared to re-issue the RFP again in 2014, but the funding had to be re-allocated for remediation efforts at Ardmore Elementary School and other priority projects in the Building Services Department.”  

If I correctly understand the information I have been given, little has been done to remediate elevated levels of lead found in testing done over the last decade. Despite remediation work at Ardmore Elementary — which did result in reducing but not eliminating lead levels — the water fountains are off. To my knowledge, nothing has been done in other schools other than simply turning off faucets and drinking fountains.

After a year-long email exchange with PGCPS, I recieved water tests reports for the years 2009 through 2016. I repeatedly wrote to PGCPS asking about how they were fixing the problem and ensuring safe drinking water for all students. I have since received a letter providing each school’s name and listing each fountain and faucet which was turned off. Read it here.

According to this December 2016 letter from PGCPS, parents were not notified about elevated levels of lead during any of the years from 2004 to 2016 by the Environmental Office, and it was unknown whether notification was received from the Communications Office. Only at Ardmore, where parents advocated for safe water, was any remediation done, as far as I am aware.

Despite this, the Lead in Water Document sent to me by PGCPS in September states that, “Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to aggressively address lead in drinking water. PGCPS is confident that all schools have water sources that are free of lead.” I do not believe such statements to be accurate.

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