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.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

“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.

Continue reading

Tulip Grove Renovation More Than Two Years Behind Schedule

by Lori Morrow

IMG_8106 (1)June 20th , 2016 was my daughter’s last day at Tulip Grove Elementary School, and it was a bittersweet farewell. Tulip Grove students and staff were originally scheduled to return to a newly renovated building this summer. However, the Tulip Grove community is still waiting for construction to begin, though state funding was approved two years ago.

September 2012: The updated Parsons Report (or Facility Conditions Assessment) identified Tulip Grove Elementary School as one of three schools with a Facility Condition Index value greater than 75%, indicating the need for major repairs and renovation. (The Facility Condition Index is the ratio of the cost of repairs to the cost of replacement.) Tulip Grove had previously been identified as one of nine schools recommended for replacement in the May 2008 Facility Condition Assessment Study.

2011-2013: Meetings about educational specifications and designs took place over this two-year period. Ultimately plans for a major renovation and addition were approved, adding approximately 15,000 sq. ft to the current facility to meet newer school standards while maintaining the State Rated Capacity of 411 students.

October 2012: Funding Request was submitted for FY2014 funds

November 2013: Presentation slides from GWWO Architects, Inc. listed the following timeline:

  • Design Development (DD) Submission: Oct. 11, 2013
  • Construction Document (CD) Phase: October 2013-February 2014
  • Permit Submission: March 2014
  • Bid Phase: April 2014-June 2014
  • Construction: July 2014-December 2015

December 2013: Parents were invited to a preliminary community meeting with the PGCPS Capital Improvement Program (CIP) team to discuss swing space where children would be housed during the construction period. Initial options of transporting children to vacant PGCPS facilities at Berkshire Elementary or Middleton Valley Elementary were not received well as these schools are 19-21 miles from Tulip Grove Elementary School.

February 2014: The CIP Team returned for a second community meeting to discuss swing space. Most community members expressed a desire to find a location in the greater Bowie area. (Meeting summarized in City of Bowie memorandum)

March 2014: Swing space was still undecided although parents had been actively engaging with the PGCPS Board of Education since the February meeting. (See this story in the Gazette, and this story in the Capital Gazette Bowie Blade, both from March 2014.)

April 2, 2014: The Parent Teacher Association (PTA) President was notified that Prince George’s County would allow Tulip Grove to use the Meadowbrook facility, which had been the site of an elementary school that closed in 1981, as swing space.

June – August 2014: The Meadowbrook facility was renovated and prepared for use as a school again.

August 2014: Students began the 2014-15 school year at “Tulip Grove @Meadowbrook”. Because the school site was across a major road from the school boundary area, all Tulip Grove students are now eligible for bus transportation, increasing the number of bus routes from two to seven.

Fall 2014-Winter 2015: There was minimal communication from the CIP Team to the PTA regarding construction updates. Neighbors around Tulip Grove could see that little had changed at the old school site. Per the timelines provided by PGCPS staff, the project was behind schedule before students began the 2014-15 school year, but that information was not communicated to parents.

Continue reading

Party Politics, Exhibit A: Sample Ballots

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

2016 sample ballot mailer2

Last week, I eagerly listened to a segment on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU radio show that addressed our politicized school board elections. David Cahn, Co-Chair of Citizens for an Elected Board, and Cheryl Landis, District 5 Board of Education Candidate and Chair of the Democratic Central Committee for Prince George’s County were guests on the show.

At one point, Mr. Nnamdi seemed to understate—or even misstate—the concern that so many of us have about partisan meddling in our school board elections. Speaking to Cheryl Landis, Mr. Nnamdi said, “Mr. Cahn and presumably others are concerned that you make it clear in some of your campaigning that you are a Democrat.”

If Mr. Nnamdi thinks that simply stating one’s party affiliation sums up the problem with partisan campaigns for school board, he is sadly missing the point.

Among the campaign literature for April’s primary election was a mailer sent to District 5 residents touting County Executive Baker’s endorsed candidates. Note the “sample ballot” on page 2 (pictured above), with the banner at the top reading, “2016 Democratic Primary Sample Ballot, Take this with you when you vote.” Names of the preferred candidates are highlighted; names of the other candidates are printed so lightly that only those with sharp eyesight can read them.

When a school board candidate is presented on a sample ballot as the preferred choice (or, in this case, the only choice) of party leaders, it is nearly impossible for any other candidate to prevail. This is the kind of partisan meddling that has led many county residents to conclude that party leaders are stacking the board with hand-selected members, members who owe them their loyalty.

 

Prince George’s Schools Advocate on Kojo Nnamdi Show

Tommi Makila coordinates the Alliance for Nonpartisan School Board Elections. He is the parent of a student in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.

by Tommi Makila

A long-time school advocate, David Cahn, will be a guest on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show on Wednesday, July 13 at noon. You can listen to the show on WAMU’s frequency of 88.5 MHz, or online. The show is typically divided into two half-hour segments; at this time it is unknown which segment David will be on.

The show’s website assigns this title to the segment: “Is Partisan Politics Poisoning Prince George’s School Board?” David Cahn will address the school board restructuring that happened under House Bill 1107. He is a long-time proponent of a fully elected school board, serving as co-chair of the advocacy group Citizens for an Elected Board. (You can connect with the group through its Facebook page.)

David was invited to be on the Kojo Nnamdi Show after the Washington Post published an opinion piece regarding school board elections that he and I co-authored.

HB 1107 has been getting a lot of attention in the school advocate circles as of late, so please consider calling in to the show to discuss the issue. WAMU’s call-in number is 1-800-433-8850.

Continue reading