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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Clara Yancey Named New Acting Principal at Dora Kennedy French Immersion

The following is a letter written to parents of children at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School dated October 27, 2015. Note that the letterhead reflects the former name of the school, Robert Goddard French Immersion. The school was officially renamed this year.

DoraKennedyLetter10_27_15

The content of the letter is transcribed below:

October 27, 2015

Dear Members of the Dora Kennedy Community:

In recent days, some of you may have participated in discussions or viewed media reports surrounding allegations of student abuse at Dora Kennedy French Immersion. I’m writing to you today to share the steps we are taking to address this situation.

First, please know that PGCPS continues its full investigation into the alleged incidents. While I would like to provide you with the details of the exact steps we have taken, I am bound by the district’s confidentiality measures that are designed to protect both the families and the employees involved. If information becomes available that we can share, you have my committment that I will do so in a quick and transparent manner.

Second, effective immediately, Mrs. Clara Yancey will serve as acting principal of Dora Kennedy French Immersion. We feel it was best to make this change, so that we can be assured we are moving forward on a path that is guided by fairness, integrity, and transparency for everyone. Mrs. Clara Yancey is a retired principal from Prince George’s County Public Schools with a distinguished and proven record as an effective instructional leader. She is a seasoned administrator with decades of professional experience and extensive expertise across a full suite of academic disciplines. Please be assured that the academic environment will continue to thrive Mrs. Yancey’s leadership.

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When Teachers Hit Children, Part 2: Responding to Suspected Abuse

Alana Cole-Faber shared her story with us last week in “When Teachers Hit Children: One PGCPS Parent’s Experience.” In this post as well as in the previous post, she writes from the basis of her personal experience as a parent, not as a legal proffessional, child psychologist or expert in abuse.

by Alana Cole-Faber

As I have shared in a previous post, last year our children reported to us that they had experienced physical and emotional abuse at their school. When our children first reported this to us, we were alarmed and terrified. We had so many questions. What should we do? Whom should we tell? Are we the only ones? What will happen when we report this? Will there be retribution against us or our children?

We are not experts on abuse or child psychology, so we would always recommend consulting an expert when it comes to concerns of abuse and have done so ourselves for the sake of our own children. However, based on our experiences, these are the actions we would suggest to other parents whose children may have experienced abuse at school.

At Home

1. Aim for prevention. Talk to your child about what behaviors are not appropriate from teachers and classmates. Tell your child exactly what they should do if they believe a teacher or classmate is behaving inappropriately. Repeat this conversation regularly, and be sure to give your child the opportunity to ask questions.

2. Create an environment in which your child feels secure and knows that he/she can come to you with problems. We made a rule with our children that if they got in trouble at school and were punished at school, we would not punish them at home as long as they told us the truth about what had happened at school. This did not mean we did not care about misbehavior, but rather that we placed more emphasis on honesty and openness in our home. We believe this was the critical thing that made our children feel comfortable talking to us after our son was struck by his teacher.

3. Keep an eye on your child’s behavior. If your child’s behavior or attitude towards school changes suddenly, this could be a sign that your child has had a negative experience. This negative experience might simply have to do with finding school work more challenging, or it might be an indicator that something more serious has taken place. In our children’s case, their attitude toward school changed dramatically almost overnight. They began asking to stay home, whereas before they had always loved going to school and would barely take a moment to hug us goodbye before running off to join their class.

4. Talk to your child about his/her experiences at school. When you talk to your child about school experiences, try to talk to your child alone, without siblings or others present who may distract or otherwise influence your child. It may help your child relax if you talk while doing another activity that he/she enjoys, such as putting together a puzzle or coloring. One of our children was always very comfortable talking about experiences, but our other child felt most comfortable having a stuffed animal tell us what happened. Ask open-ended questions whenever possible and avoid asking leading questions, even if you think you know exactly what happened during the incident in question. Try to remain calm and avoid reacting emotionally to the things your child describes. If your child describes an event that alarms you, calmly ask questions like, “What happened next? What did the teacher say? Who else was there?” Reassure your child that he/she is not in trouble for reporting information to you. In our experience, it took multiple conversations before our children were willing to reveal all of the details of the event.

5. Do your best to help your child identify and understand his/her feelings about the event. Validate any feelings your child may have. You can try saying something like, “You said that behavior made you feel sad. I understand. I think I might feel sad, too, if something like that happened to me.”

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When Teachers Hit Children: One PGCPS Parent’s Experience

Alana Cole-Faber, a parent with children in PGCPS, has shared her story here, with the hope that any other parents who have had similar experiences will come forward and work for positive change. You may contact Ms. Cole-Faber at pgparentscircle@gmail.com

by Alana Cole-Faber

In August of 2014, my children began school at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School (formerly Robert Goddard), one of PGCPS’s Specialty Schools. Having completed a successful year of preschool, our children were so excited to finally be attending “real school” with the big kids. We felt incredibly fortunate that we had won the lottery and that our children would have the privilege of attending a National Blue Ribbon school. We have moved a lot as a family, and as parents we were looking forward to settling down in Prince George’s County and getting to know our new community, the teachers, parents, and the school system in general. Instead, we have spent a large portion of the last year dealing with an appalling problem.

In October 2014, our children came home and told us that my son had been spanked at Dora Kennedy French Immersion School. We were stunned. We immediately separated and interviewed our children to find out what had happened and to be sure all of the details of their stories matched up. The children told us that my son had been jumping up and down while the class was singing, so the teacher asked the class to tell her which child had misbehaved and deserved to be punished. The majority of students pointed to my son, so he was called to the front of the class and struck until he cried. I asked my daughter if she thought our son had been hit hard, and my daughter said, “The teacher hit him hard, but she hits another boy even harder.”

My children then went on to name three other children who had been struck by their teacher during the year. (Corporal punishment is illegal in public schools in Maryland. Even so, it is worth noting that we had never received so much as a note home from this teacher to say that our son had misbehaved in class.)

The next morning, we went to the school to report the abuse. We spoke to a supervisory staff member at the school first. The supervisor listened to our story, then left to remove the teacher from the classroom and sent in a security officer to take our written statement. It was explained to us that any time there are allegations of abuse or harassment, a written report is sent to the county for investigation. It was also explained to us that this teacher would not be left alone with students during the investigation. We wrote a written report, including the names of the other children who had been struck. We also asked that our children be moved to other classrooms, just in case the teacher were allowed to return to the classroom following the investigation.

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