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.

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Head Start: Eight Things We’ve Learned from the Latest Documents

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

report from WUSA 9 has uncovered new details about the Head Start situation. The news outlet has gained access to two new documents:

  • an email dated January 19, 2016 from the mother of the three-year-old who was allegedly forced to mop his own urine, addressed to seven PGCPS employees, including CEO Kevin Maxwell, Head Start Supervisor Sandra Kee, and Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Gladys Whitehead
  • an email dated April 7, 2016 from Chief of Staff George Margolies, addressed to Gladys Whitehead, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Shawn Joseph, who was then serving as Deputy Superintendent

Here’s what we learn from the email written by the mother of the alleged victim:

  • CEO Maxwell was informed of the alleged abuse as early as January 19. He received an email that detailed the Head Start teacher’s treatment of the alleged victim and the aftermath.
  • This was not an isolated incident. The mother of the alleged victim writes that she had previously spoken to the Head Start teacher when she learned that the teacher had swatted her son on the bottom. She writes, “After getting on her she swore to never do it again, we were cool so I gave her a chance but she kept crossing the line!”
  • Another child in the same class was also humiliated by the teacher under similar circumstances. According to the mother who wrote the email, another student was also required to mop up her own urine. The teacher “kept calling her a baby” and did not let her eat her breakfast with the other children.
  • After the abuse was reported, the Head Start teacher was not immediately removed from the classroom. As of January 19, according to the mother of the victim, the teacher was “allowed to come right back to work like nothing ever happened.” The mother first reported the incident on December 22, 2015.
  • The mother was told by several PGCPS employees not to “alert the media and seek legal action.”

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Notes on the Sept. 8th Board of Education Meeting, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the September 8th Board of Education meeting in BoardDocs, go here. Video of the entire meeting is below.

See notes on the first portion of the meeting here.

AGENDA ITEMS, at 1:22:01.

4.1 Head Start Update / 11.2 Head Start Policy Council Minutes and Follow UP

CEO: On August 29, Head Start opened up for 2017 school year. Very few problems. Members of executive team visited every Head Start classroom in district and will continue to do so. In the summer, all Head Start staff received training on suspected child abuse and neglect and additional training for positive behavior techniques, which is requirement for Head Start. Trainings will continue throughout the year. Issues are being sent to Deputy Superintendents. Conducted several unannounced observations and will continue them throughout the school year. Discussions are underway with Administration for Children and Families, PGCPS administration, four school board members and members of the County Council. Special Section on PGCPS website with updates. Their priority is that Head Start children remain in school with no disruptions.

Questions, beginning at 1:24:34.

Mr. Blocker: What are next steps for Head Start Program? Clarity into the investigation. Internal investigation? How are you will inform the public? He is disappointed how the situation is being handled by administration.

CEO Response: We have been doing fact-finding and investigation, identified people who were a part of the original concerns. Also doing additional trainings and continuing conversation. There is an internal investigation. They will continue to update as additional information becomes available to them. Pieces of personnel investigations that can be public and others not. Taking action, but there are things that they cannot legally discuss in public about individual employees. There can be appeals to BOE (and some already have been appealed). “So I’m glad that you’re disappointed, Mr. Blocker, but you should wait until you have all the facts to be disappointed.”

Mr. Burroughs, at 1:28:50: What is being done to keep our students are safe? Original report from Federal Government mentioned there are cases that weren’t reported so what about the non-Head Start classes? Telling parents that policies have changed is not sufficient. Initial notice was sent to Administration in February. What actions were taken then? What corrective measures taken then?

CEO Response: We have been very clear publicly that we went through the entire process of retraining the staff over the past couple of months. Also, the Student Safety Task Force results are known, Board acted and changed policy. They have been evaluating the training since.

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Notes on the Sept. 8th Board of Education Meeting, Part 1

These notes cover the first hour and twenty minutes of the September 8th Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting, including the public comment portion of the meeting. Notes on the remainder of the meeting are here.

by Laura Rammelsberg

To view the agenda for the Board of Education meeting in BoardDocs, go here. Video of the entire meeting is below.

REPORT OF THE CHAIR, at 17:01 in the video

Attendance Awareness Month is September. Showing up is half the battle.

Buck Lodge Middle School Science Teacher Lazaro was selected for President Obama’s Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is among 212 educators from across the nation to win this award. She received a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and a letter from President Obama.

Statement about Head Start Program, at 18:38: Board wants the Head Start students to continue to receive a high quality education and services this year and beyond. They recognize a close review and examination of what led to the situation must take place. Disciplinary actions were announced last week. This is a first step to keep students safe. They must provide full transparency into this situation. They must examine policies, procedures and actions, but also take stock at the underlying culture in the system and how it must be transformed. Dr. Maxwell and Administration have been asked to provide a full review and public written debriefing. He’s inviting the Federal Government’s Administration for Children and Families to address the Board of Education at an upcoming public meeting. Their external investigation shined light on an area in which we must clearly improve. The Board and Public should hear how they arrived at their conclusions and what solutions they offer.

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A Parent’s Letter to County Executive Baker

by Caroline Small

Dear Executive Baker:

I am writing as a parent of a young child who should be starting in Prince George’s County Public Schools next year. I am considering moving out of this County because of the situation with school leadership that I have witnessed over the last year, particularly but not exclusively with regards to the current Head Start situation. I love Prince George’s County, so I am hoping that there will be a change in the way leadership is responding to these recurring situations, so that my confidence can be restored.

CEO Kevin Maxwell’s public responses to the loss of federal Head Start funds, as well as to the recent situation at Dora Kennedy and the instances of sexual abuse, are wholly inadequate. Once a problem is reported, it is not “poor judgment” on the part of “a few people.” It is a problem with the administration. Likewise the school board’s failure to be aware and monitoring is a failure of leadership. The emphasis from the County has been on “ensuring the program continues” — showing much less concern about understanding and correcting root causes of the failure. That, combined with the fact that the problems were not corrected initially, makes it appear that the County does not recognize the severity of this problem.

Even more importantly, though, the response suggests that none of our leaders are willing to step up and take responsibility for the shoddiness of the leadership that has been demonstrated up to this point. You have stated that nobody will be asked to resign or held publicly accountable for this failure. As far as I can tell as a parent, there is no accountability at any level, and therefore I believe the commitment to reform is insincere.

Our teachers are, for the most part, valiant. But the leaders of our school system — and you— are saying exactly the wrong things. School leadership in this county is closed off, disengaged, and suffering from a trust deficit with the community.

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A Closer Look at Findings from the Federal Investigation Into PGCPS’s Head Start Program

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 more:

Read the entire letter from the Office of Head Start to Board Chair Segun Eubanks, as well as the enclosed report, below.

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Proposed Policy Update to Require Training for Parent Volunteers

Lori Morrow presented a version of this testimony during the public comment portion of the May 12th Board of Education Meeting. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

by Lori Morrow

I would like to share my thoughts on the volunteer policies on the agenda tonight. I am glad to see that the administrative policies about volunteers will be updated, as there were certainly some gray areas and inconsistent implementation in Administrative Procedures for Volunteers and Criminal Background Checks.

However, as I read the updated language for Board Policy 0106, I’m concerned some of these new procedures have the potential to create barriers for parents who are interested in volunteering. In particular, I believe that, while “Requiring all volunteers and leadership of Parent Teacher Associations and Parent Teacher Organizations to undergo specific training on reporting suspected child abuse and neglect” is an understandable reaction to incidents this year, depending on the form that training takes, it is yet another requirement we’re levying on volunteers that could result in diminished volunteerism.

I am a former Elementary School PTA President, and incoming Middle School PTSO President and I know how difficult it can be to engage parents and recruit them as volunteers. It is my hope that parent leaders and advocates will be included in your process as you establish volunteer training and monitoring procedures. Parents, grandparents and community members who choose to provide free labor in our schools should be treated as welcomed partners, not suspects. We accept the locked doors and Raptor checks and the sign-in procedures, but we also want reassurance that volunteers are welcome and needed.

In my personal experience, I think we lost some of that welcome feeling both when Parent Liaison positions were eliminated in the budget cuts years ago, and also as security measures have increased in recent years. If parents, school staff, and the administration work together, I believe we can find a balance between the transparent, welcoming atmosphere parents and volunteers appreciate, while still maintaining the safe learning environment our students deserve.

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Prince George’s County Parents Speak up About Recess

The following opinion was presented by LaShayla Clark, one of four Prince George’s County parents who spoke during the public comment portion of the February 25, 2016 Board of Education meeting about the need for longer recess. You may view Ms. Clark’s comments beginning at 1:21:58 in the video below.

Good evening. Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the topic of recess. Two and a half years ago, my husband and I decided to move our family from Georgia to Maryland with the hopes of our children receiving a high quality education. Despite what we heard regarding education in Prince George’s county, we looked for a school that was ranked high and bought a home a little over a year ago. I have three small children, a four year old, a two year old and a 7 month old. My oldest will be starting school this fall.

Recently, my eyes have been opened to a number of issues that reside with our county’s school system. Many of the families that I have met here are planning to home school their children or send them to private school. One of those parents who send her children to private school said, “Our children will be done with school by the time they fix everything.” Nevertheless, I believe that my children can and will receive a great education in Prince George’s County and so I am here to ask you to consider research based policies for our school system.

It was while visiting schools, that I asked an administrator how much time the students have for recess. She told me 15 minutes. I was in shock. She went on to say that Prince George’s County schools require 15 minutes. I have since learned that each school has an option to allow up to 30 minutes of recess a day. However, many schools only provide the minimum. I recently spoke to a principal in Prince George’s County who increased the time of recess at her school. I learned a couple of things in my conversation with her. One is that she wants what is best for all of her students. Two, she wants her school to aim for the Bronze level for the Healthy Schools Program, which encourages at least 20 minutes of recess per day.

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Maryland Legislative Session: Sensible Sugar in Schools

The following is testimony given by Rachel Hinton at the Maryland House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee Public Hearing on February 18th, 2016, in support of the Sensible Sugar in Schools Act (House Bill 528), a bill that require schools to put a plan in place to reduce added sugar in school meals. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

These are wrappers from snacks served at school to the author’s daughter.

Thank you for hearing my testimony today.

My four-year-old and six-year-old children attend a public school in Prince George’s County, Robert Goddard Montessori, where I am Vice President of the PTSA. In addition to serving breakfast and lunch, this school provides a daily snack in the classroom to the preschool and kindergarten students who are between three and six years old.

Like all families, my husband and I are focused on raising healthy kids. We are part of a growing group who are concerned about how food choices affect lifetime health. So it has been very upsetting to have sugary and heavily processed foods like Kellogg’s Froot Loops and Rice Krispy Treats served to my children on a regular basis as part of their school day.

The World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and the USDA are all recommending dramatic reductions in sugar consumption. The latest USDA guidelines for all Americans state that added sugars should be no more than 10% of total calories. The American Heart Association says young children should consume no more than 3 teaspoons of added sugar per day. These recommendations are impossible to implement when foods served in school can be 35% sugar. A typical serving of chocolate milk has 13 grams, or 3 teaspoons, of added sugar in a single 8 oz. serving.

I have been in touch by email with the Prince Georges County Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition Services. They have shared with me that they are required to serve a fresh fruit or vegetable two times a week in the snack program and that the packaged, branded snacks, such as the Kellogg’s products, have been reformulated to contain no more than 35% sugar by weight. I have asked them what barriers exist to serving a fresh fruit or vegetable, or other more wholesome food, every day, instead of just 2 times a week, and never serving packaged “junk” foods. The only answer I have been given is that they are working within the existing requirements. Although I had been hopeful that advocating directly to Food and Nutrition Services at the county level would lead to change, it now appears that the best way to change the practices in my county is to change the requirements that are imposed by the state of Maryland, as the counties only seem to make changes when they are required to by a higher authority.

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Elementary School Volunteer Charged with Child Pornography

From the Washington Post, published February 8, 2016, by reporters Lynh Bui and Donna St. George. Go here for the full story.

An elementary school volunteer and youth choir director faces charges in Prince George’s County after allegedly making pornographic videos involving children, communicating with many of the victims through an anonymous messaging app popular among teens.

Deonte Carraway, 22, of Glenarden, Md., is charged with 10 counts of felony child pornography and related sex charges in connection with 40 recordings involving at least 10 children ranging from 9 to 13 years old, charging documents state.

Continue reading at the Washington Post.


UPDATE: From WJLA (ABC 7), published February 10, 2016, by Brad Bell. Go here for the full story.

A lawsuit has been filed in the case of Deonte Carraway, the school employee from Judge Sylvania Woods who was charged with making child porn. The principal of the school is also named as a defendant.

The lawsuit, filed by Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A., on behalf of a 9-year-old and the child’s guardian (referred to as John Doe and Jane Doe), alleges that Michelle Williams, the principal at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School, “took no action” despite concerns being raised about Carraway by parents and teachers.

Continue reading at WJLA.