A Lonely Journey: Life on Administrative Leave

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

There is your badge sitting on the desk. Your smiling face and the PGCPS logo are looking straight up at the ceiling. That piece of plastic that stayed so close to you every day at work was being taken away from you. Maybe for a few days. Maybe forever. The words still ring in your ears: “I’m placing you on administrative leave.”

You’ve had a stellar record through all of your career. You’re respected by your colleagues. You’ve never had a whiff of trouble. And now, you can’t do the thing that’s been at the core of your being for almost your entire adult life.

Your mind turns to the alleged victim. You are a teacher because you have a sincere desire to make the world a better place. You want the best for your students, your colleagues, and your community. Yet somehow, somebody believes you have been harmful to them or that you have done something to put others at risk. Whoever is putting forth the allegations is not your enemy, but you are suddenly placed in an antagonistic position with someone you have tried to support.

As the principal walks you to the parking lot and you drive away, you contemplate how you will explain this to your family. You know they will be hurt and confused, but you still have to be the one to deliver the news. Before it even happens, you can hear what will come: the bewildered silence and the anger in their voices.

You turn your attention to what it will take to defend yourself. So many things happen in a teacher’s day. This is a profession that is exhausting based on the sheer number of decisions you have to make as you plan and manage a classroom full of young personalities and try to impart the curriculum. You don’t have time to take detailed notes of everything that happens, yet right now you wish that you had a record of every interaction you’ve had. You do the best with what you’ve got.

It soon becomes clear what is one of the most insidious aspects of being on administrative leave. The feeling of isolation is horrible. You have been instructed not to be in contact with any colleagues, students, or parents. You know they are wondering about you. Where is my teacher? Will they ever come back? What happened to our colleague? I hope everything is OK. You receive phone calls, text messages, and emails, but you know you can’t respond and tell the truth of what you’re going through.

When the school year ends, you will learn from news reports that there were 848 PGCPS staff members placed on administrative leave this year. In that sense, you are not alone. Sure, you had heard through the grapevine what had happened to a friend of a friend. It was unfortunate, but it was distant. Now it is all too close. You wish you could reach out to the others. You need a support group, but you don’t know who they are or where they are.

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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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