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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Making Advocacy More Effective

Printby Lori Morrow

After much feedback from constituents — including the Parent and Community Advisory Council — the Prince George’s County Board of Education’s Policy, Legal and Legislative Committee voted not to revise the Board Policy 8345 – Public Comment at this time. Board members acknowledged that the changes were being perceived as limiting public comment, and that this was not their intention. Instead, there is an understanding that many people speak at Board of Education meetings because they are not feeling heard elsewhere. That is something that the system needs to address.


I’ve been a PGCPS parent for nine years, including three years as a PTA/PTSO President, two years on a PTA/PTSO Executive Board, and this past year as a member of the Parent & Community Advisory Council.  I have found myself in front of the Board of Education more times than I can count, and I want to offer some suggestions for parents who are looking to be heard:

  1. Work with your school’s parent organization. Ask to add the issue of concern as a meeting agenda item, so that you canget input from other families. Members of your Parent Teacher Association/Organization (PTA/PTO) Board may have heard from other parents dealing with the same situation or may know if school staff is already working on a resolution.
  2. For PTA/PTO leaders, network with other parent organizations in your area. Find out if they have dealt with similar issues and how they have been able to resolve them.  PGCABS is a great resource to find out what is going on at other schools as well!
  3. Refer to the Ombudsman’s “Guide to Addressing Questions and Concerns”. Finding the right office may help solve your issue sooner.
  4. If you have thoughts on a Board of Education meeting agenda item, consider submitting your testimony to your Board of Education Member a day or two in advance of any vote. This allows the members time to review the information and follow-up with any questions for you or other PGCPS offices.
  5. Take advantage of opportunities to speak with members of the administration or Board of Education at community forums, Family Institute events, and public hearings.
  6. If you plan to speak at a Board of Education meeting as a group, coordinate your message and identify your strongest speakers. Bring other community members to support you in the audience, but often your points can be made with 2-4 speakers.
  7. Suggest a solution or a desired outcome whenever possible. You may have insight or a fresh perspective that members of the administration or Board of Education may not have considered.
  8. When you do speak during the public comment portion of a board meeting, be concise and direct. Respect the time limits and Board of Education guidelines to keep the process running smoothly. Showing that we understand and respect the process will help keep it available as an avenue for engaging school leadership.

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It Takes a Village

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by Aiyshen Padilla and Llew Brown

Today was a good day. I witnessed an event at Bowie High School that reminded me of all the good that happens when we work together. I was reminded that although we don’t literally live in villages, we still need the support of the village community, especially for our young people.

My village is comprised of both rich and poor. Parents who can afford the best for their children and don’t need help, and parents who desperately need help so their children can grow up healthy with the opportunity to reach their full potential. A community of people who send their kids to private school, and a growing contingent of committed parents who are investing in their local public school. That is where I fall. I believe in public schools and the children who attend them. I am committed to helping change schools for the better.

As parents, we all want the best for our children, but so often we don’t know what is needed or how to get it done. So we came together. It was during a conversation after a Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) meeting this past February when the idea blossomed to create the 9th grade Grade Point Average (GPA) Challenge at Bowie High School. This initiative was a great opportunity to show how we can all come together as a village – parents, administrators, the school board and local businesses.

The Challenge:  The concept was simple: Challenge the 9th graders at Bowie High School to improve their GPA by 10% between the 2nd and 3rd quarters (the third quarter ended March 24, 2017). Make it open to all 9th graders, not just the usual suspects — the high achievers. Invite them to a celebration event at the end of the challenge. Provide certificates of achievement to the students that met the goal and enter them into a raffle for a chance to win gift cards from local establishments. One goal of the program was to inspire other busy parents to get involved in a highly visible way with the school and their student, during future initiatives. Another was to demonstrate a true collaboration across stakeholders in our community.

The Village:  Several parents joined forces to implement the challenge. Collaborating mostly through conference calls and email, extra tutoring was arranged, a menu for the party was developed, and strategies for securing additional support were executed. For example, businesses and a school board representative provided much-needed funds for supplies and food. Additional families donated to the cause. School administrators promoted the GPA challenge by including mention of the challenge during the school’s morning announcements. Administrators also crunched the data and created the space for the celebration to occur.

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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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Updated: ‘Hidden Figures’ Field Trip Is Back On After Parents Write Letter

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The following letter was sent to Dr. Judith White, in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction of Prince George’s County Public Schools, in response to a decision not to approve a field trip to see the film Hidden Figures.

UPDATE: After additional research by the Department of Curriculum and Research, Dr. White has approved this film for PGCPS students in grades 4-12.

Dear Dr. White,

We are parents of fourth graders at Greenbelt Elementary School. We were dismayed to learn that our children’s field trip to see the movie Hidden Figures was canceled because your office has deemed the movie inappropriate for fourth grade students, and we urge you to reconsider.

We are sure you’re aware that the movie features the true story of African-American women who worked on the first moon landing. You may not be aware that the movie has been a very popular choice for teachers in upper elementary grades who want to inform and inspire their students. Schools around the country, including some in St. Louis, MO, Seattle, WA, and Nashville, TN have arranged showings of the movie for their fourth graders. There is a great variety of background information and sample lesson plans available to teachers who wish to make the outing more than just a trip to the movies. The parent-run media information site Common Sense Media, which we have found to be fair and also quite conservative in their age recommendations, suggests the movie is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

The Greenbelt Elementary School field trip was nearly ideal. Students would be able to walk from their school to an historic theater in town, encouraging healthful habits in addition to the inspiring content of the film. Women engineers from NASA were going to be on hand to answer student’s questions after the movie. Parents who object to the film have the option, as they have with every field trip, to refuse to give permission for their child to participate. Given the County’s push for students who are college and career ready, especially in STEM fields, we hope you will reconsider your decision and allow the field trip to go on as planned.

Sincerely,

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PGCPS Grappling with Large Number of Teachers on Administrative Leave

IMG_6404The 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.

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More Questions Answered on FY 2018 Budget

A previous post featured budget-related questions from the community, along with answers prepared by the Office of Budget and Management Services, under the direction of John Pfister. These questions were submitted in advance of the Jan 23 PGCPS Budget 101 Event, co-sponsored by PGCPS and Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Five additional questions, submitted after the Budget 101 Event, and their answers, prepared by the Office of Budget and Management Services, are found below (and available in PDF format here). It may be helpful to refer to the proposed Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2018, found here.

1. Are total budgets and/or school based budget amounts per each school available anywhere? Either proposed amounts for next year or actual amounts for the current year. It would also be interesting and helpful to see actual per student funding for each school.

The school based budget for each Prince George’s County public school is available on our website at:

http://www1.pgcps.org/sbb/sbb2017.aspx

2. What exactly will the proposed charter school program expansion entail (37.6 FTE, $3.9 million additional funding)?

The FY 2018 proposed budget includes $3.9 million and 37.60 FTE to support existing charter school enrollment increases and the expansion of grade levels at the following Charter schools:

  • Chesapeake Math and IT Academy (6-12) – adding 10th Grade
  • College Park Academy (6-12) – adding 11th Grade
  • Imagine Foundations Phase II (Morningside K-8) – adding 8th Grade

3. There is a significant proposed increase for the per pupil allocation for charter schools (page 71 of the budget document), from $9,812 to $12,977. What explains this?

The overall increase in the per pupil allocation (PPA) for charter schools is directly related to the $122.6 million budget proposal for FY 2018. Although this is a proposed budget, the Charter School – Per Pupil Allocation Formula takes this amount into consideration when projecting the FY 2018 allocation. The PPA will be revised based on the Board’s requested and approved budgets.

4. PGCPS spends over $50 million per year to send students to private schools. I believe this is for special needs students. Has there been an evaluation if it would be more cost effective for PGCPS itself to provide at least some of these services?

The non-public budget for PGCPS is $53 million. In an effort to address this area of concern, PGCPS’ Department of Special Education conducted an analysis of the disability categories served in non-public schools in FY 2016. The analysis was conducted to determine which disability categories are predominately served in non-public schools. Results indicated that, of the 847 students served in non-public schools, 39% had a specific learning disability. The data indicated that these students are served in non-public schools to address their needs in the area of reading. In an effort to address this concern, the Department of Special Education is in the process of examining the use of appropriate reading interventions to ensure students with deficits in this area can be served within the school system.

In addition, due to the rising increase in the number of students with autism, the Department of Special Education is preparing to consult with a national expert to develop and design services to address the needs of students with significant cognitive and behavioral needs. This multi-year plan will enhance and expand access to services within the school system.

5. At the Budget 101 session, it seemed somewhat unclear what the budget plan for building maintenance is. Is there an overall increase or decrease in building maintenance expenditures? Which specific line items related to building maintenance are being adjusted and what is the reasoning for those changes?

In the FY 2018 proposed budget, there are two significant increases in the overall budget for Building Services. The line item for Maintenance Supplies was increased as well as the line item for Overtime. Both of these increases were made to reflect historical spending levels.

You may find the first set of community questions and answers regarding the FY 2018 Operating Budget here