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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Notes from the Oct. 4 Tele-Town Hall Meeting on Student Safety

On Tuesday, October 4, CEO Kevin Maxwell hosted a Telephone Town Hall Meeting on student safety. Parents were invited to ask questions about plans to improve student safety in Prince George’s County Public Schools.

by Laura Rammelsberg

Speakers: Dr. Kevin Maxwell, CEO
Dr. Segun Eubanks, PGCPS Board of Education Chair
Rex Barrett, Director of Security

12,000 callers on the Telephone Town Hall

Dr. Maxwell

PGCPS Facts:
131,000 Students
20,000 Employees
200+ schools
One of the largest school districts in the country

This is Dr. Maxwell’s 4th year as CEO of the district, and there was a lot of work that needed to be done since he became CEO. He wants safe classrooms and high quality education for all children. He was angered by all of these situations and his heart goes out to the children and families that have been mistreated.

Employees are being trained to know what to do, when to do it, and how to report. Some employees didn’t understand their responsibility in regards to reporting.

They are in the process of implementing goals set forth by the Student Safety Task Force.

Dr. Eubanks

Every one of the 131,000 students in the district deserved love, respect, a high quality education, and safety that they are entitled to and the School Board will take the steps to make sure that happens.

The district will move beyond this time stronger, safer more loving than it has ever been. But this will take work.

The School Board knows that they need to regain parents’ trust and they want and will work to gain it back. 

Mr. Barrett

Significant improvements have been made to school district security since Dr. Maxwell became CEO. Cameras at every school.

Security staff are in uniforms, so people know who they are. They train with the police department on active shooter response twice a year, do other training including conflict-resolution training. They do lockdown drills at different times of the day four times a year.

Recent events — social media threats. The police department has a system that intercepts threats to schools. “Say something, see something” campaign. Students and staff report suspicious activity. Many students told school about the current threat. Five arrests so far, and more arrests are coming. Additional police presence has been at all of the schools, so parents and children felt safe.

Questions and Answers 

(answers provided by Dr. Maxwell unless indicated otherwise)

Q: Safety Communication — how is info given re: bomb scare or inappropriate action of staff towards students?

A: Dr. Maxwell agrees communication has not been great or timely. Administration has been reviewing timelines. In re: to bomb scares, they work with law enforcement, but they can’t release some information as investigations are sometimes ongoing.

Q: How is risk assessed at each school — people walking in & out?

A: They are assessing this at the moment.

Q: How are teachers protected against allegations?

A: The PGCPS has a responsibility to make sure children are safe first and foremost. Teachers will be removed if it is deemed that children are unsafe. They are working to make sure assessment and disciplinary action are taken in a timely manner.

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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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