Eubanks Reappointed to Board of Education, Anderson Resigns

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Prince George’s County Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks has been appointed to a second four-year term on the board. In a June 8 phone conversation, a staff member in County Executive Rushern Baker’s office confirmed that Baker reappointed Eubanks on June 1 of this year.

Eubanks was first appointed on June 1, 2013, the same day that the controversial House Bill 1107 took effect. The legislation changed the structure of the board, adding four at-large appointed members to the previously all-elected board and giving the superintendent (renamed under the bill as “Chief Executive Officer”) and county executive more control over the school system. Under HB 1107, the county executive also selects the chair of the board of education, who serves a two-year term as chair. Eubanks was selected by Baker to serve as chair of the board in June of 2013.

Beverly Anderson, whose recent resignation from the board has made the news, was also appointed by Baker to a four-year term in June of 2013. Anderson’s appointment was announced on June 17, along with the appointments of Daniel Kaufman and Curtis Valentine. Under the provisions of HB 1107, Valentine was appointed by the county council, and Kaufman was appointed by the county executive. Both were appointed to two-year terms initially, with the stipulation that future appointments to those seats would be four-year terms. Valentine was appointed in June 2015 to a second term, which will last four years. Kaufman’s seat is now held by Mary Roche.

The board of education also has nine elected members, each elected from their own board of education district, and one student member.

On June 13, four days before her term ended, Anderson sent a resignation letter to County Executive Baker, criticizing the school system for its “lack of a coherent educational plant” and calling the board “dysfunctional.” The letter was obtained by NBC 4 through a public information request, and the full text is below. It is not clear whether Baker had planned to appoint Anderson to a second term. Baker is responsible for appointing someone to fill the vacancy left by Anderson.

 

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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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What We Know About the Prior Investigation into Alleged Fraudulent Graduation Rates

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Earlier this month, four Prince George’s County board of education members raised hackles when they alleged that graduation rates in the county schools had been inflated through grade fixing and other tactics. The board members — Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed, and Juwan Blocker — asked Governor Larry Hogan to order an investigation into the claims of fraud. Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell and other school officials have denied the allegations, citing an investigation by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) conducted earlier this year that cleared the schools of any wrongdoing.

But State Delegate Jay Walker has publicly questioned whether the MSDE investigation was sufficiently thorough, and on June 25 Governor Larry Hogan sent a letter requesting that the MSDE conduct a “complete, thorough, and exhaustive” investigation into the allegations.

So, why order a second investigation? How thorough was the investigation that was completed earlier this year? A letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education describes the previous MSDE investigation in detail. (Scroll to the end of the post to find the letter in full.) Here is what we know about the investigation:

  1. When did the investigation occur? The investigation was conducted in January 2017, but it was a follow-up on an informal inquiry that had occurred the previous year. In July 2016, Patrick Rooney, deputy director of the United States Department of Education’s (USDE) Office of State Support had sent a letter to Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon informing her of an anonymous tip made to his office, alleging that Schools CEO Maxwell was forcing grade changes in order to boost graduation rates. The letter included mention of two high schools in particular. After receiving the letter, Salmon contacted Maxwell about the allegations, and he denied them. Nothing further was done until the MSDE received a phone call in December 2016 from the USDE asking for an update on the investigation.
  2. Who conducted the investigation? The January investigation seems to have been conducted by a single person, Carol Williamson, chief academic officer of the Office of the Deputy for Teaching and Learning, and a former superintendent of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools. The investigation was preceded by a meeting between Williamson and Maxwell on December 12, 2016.
  3. What was the scope of the investigation? The investigation consisted of 1) looking at graduation rate data, 2) meeting with Kevin Maxwell, and 3) interviewing Maxwell and four others. Carol Williamson looked at the graduation data for the county for the past five years and for the two high schools mentioned in the complaint. She discussed the graduation data with Maxwell at the December meeting, and in January she interviewed Maxwell and four other PGCPS employees: an instructional director, a data management and strategy analyst, a special project officer*, and a deputy superintendent.
  4. How were the interviewees selected? How long was each interview? The employees interviewed were referred by Maxwell. It appears that none of the employees interviewed is in a school-based position. Williamson writes, “At the conclusion of our [December] meeting I asked him to identify others with whom I could talk. I asked to talk with the principals’ supervisors for the two high schools, with someone involved in grade collection on transcripts, with someone responsible for school counselors, etc.” Each interview was between 30 and 45 minutes long. According to Williamson, the discussions were thorough, and each person interviewed was “very proud of the work being done in the school system.” (See the letter below for a list of questions asked.)
  5. Who knew — or didn’t know — about the investigation? In a statement issued on June 20, Board Members Burroughs, Ahmed, Murray, and Blocker claimed that they were not informed of the MSDE investigation. They write, “We were absolutely unaware that MSDE had done an investigation on the matter earlier this year. Neither the CEO nor Board leadership informed us of it previous to yesterday evening, when it went out as a blast to school system stakeholders and the media.”

Update on Administrative Leave Situation in Prince George’s County Schools

An earlier post documented the large number of staff on administrative leave in the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

by Justine C. 

IMG_6404Since I wrote about this issue on March 1, 2017, there has been increased reporting in the local media on the problem. School board members Edward Burroughs (Distrct 8), David Murray (District 1), Raaheela Ahmed (District 5), and Juwan Blocker (Student Member) have created a petition in April to review and revamp the administrative leave policy. Their stated goals are to host listening sessions and create recommendations for improvements to the current policies and procedures.

In addition, this month, PGCPS’s Office of Monitoring, Accountability and Compliance will be providing any recommendations they have for changes to policies and procedures regarding student safety. (See minutes from March 7 Policy, Legal, and Legislative Committee Meeting.) The office was created on July 1, 2016, to oversee the development and implementation of procedures and protocols related to student safety.

In response to a Public Information Act request, PGCPS reports that as of May 2, 2017, there are 153 teachers — compared with 160 on January 31 — and 248 additional staff on administrative leave for a total of 401 personnel, indicating either a decline in the number of reports or faster investigations.

PGCPS also indicated in their response to my Public Information Act request that they implemented a tracking system in early April that includes the disposition of cases, referring to whether or not a staff person was reprimanded, terminated, or some other course of action was taken. However, they do not track the amount of time a case takes to investigate and how long teachers are out of the classroom on administrative leave.

Response to the Public Information Act request is embedded below.

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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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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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“After School Satan” Club May Come to PGCPS School

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

The Washington Post reports that The Satanic Temple has a new extracurricular program dubbed the “After School Satan Club,” with plans to introduce clubs at nine schools across the country, according to the program’s website. Prince George’s County’s Bradbury Heights Elementary School, in Capitol Heights, is on the list.

The club’s name is misleading. The Satanic Temple does not advocate the worship of Satan—or any other supernatural being. Its stated mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people. In addition, we embrace practical common sense and justice.” The After School Satan Clubs will encourage “a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view.”

The After School Satan Clubs aim to provide a contrasting voice to the Christian message of the Good News Clubs, an evangelical ministry that organizes after-school clubs run by volunteers. According to the After School Satan Club’s website, “[o]nce religion invades schools, as The Good News Clubs have, The Satanic Temple will fight to ensure that plurality and true religious liberty are respected.”

Parent permission is required to attend either the After School Satan Club or the Good News Club.

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