UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Board of Education held an emergency session last week to pass new student safety policies and procedures to ensure implementation before school starts in August. In the wake of ongoing investigations into incidents at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School, the more recent allegations of a teacher having an […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Board of Education held an emergency session last week to pass new student safety policies and procedures to ensure implementation before school starts in August.
In the wake of ongoing investigations into incidents at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School, the more recent allegations of a teacher having an inappropriate relationship with a high school student at Forestville High School, and with the report of the Student Safety Task Force, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and the county board of education called an emergency session to pass student safety policies.
The bulk of the four policies is made up of either updated former legislation or based off of the recommendations of the task force. During the meeting on July 19, the board and school administration went over each policy before unanimously passing all four, though not without some line edits and minor amendments.
Board Chair Segun Eubanks said the board specifically called the emergency session during the board’s normal summer recess to pass the policies and procedures before the August meeting. This, they hope, will ensure the implementation is started and nearly completed before students return to the classroom.
“As you know, the (student) safety task force delivered its report about six weeks ago, just before the board convened for its summer break,” Eubanks said.
The normal process for policies starts with board counsel and board administration working together on draft policies, which are then passed to the policy committee. Once the committee is satisfied with the policy, it comes to the board as a first reader and then is passed or defeated as a second reader.
The student safety policies, however, were initiated by the school system’s administration, based off of the task force’s findings. They were worked on by legal counsel and brought before the board.
“Had we followed normal (procedure), at best – if we assume that our policy committee would have met over the summer – it would have come to us as first reader at our first meeting in August and would not have been acted on formally until the following meeting two weeks later,” Eubanks said.
Although Boardmember Beverly Anderson said she understands, in this specific instance, the need to move so quickly, she said she hopes this does not become a trend. She said the board does not have much to do, but policy is one of its domains and it should introduce it.
Many board members agreed the policy committee should see policy first, but also agreed the student safety policies must be passed before school starts. The board and school system wants to make sure incidents like those at Judge Sylvania Woods do not happen again.
“We are committed to implementing comprehensive policies that send a clear message about what matters most in Prince George’s County Public Schools – our children’s safety,” said Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS. “We must use every precaution in issues involving student safety and ensuring safe environments in all of our schools.”
The policies the board passed specifically related to school volunteers – whether family or community members; inappropriate relationships between students, staff, volunteers and contractors; reporting suspected child abuse and neglect; and overall safety measures to prevent child abuse.
Policy 4400 specifically addresses student-teacher relationships and states:
“PGCPS employees, volunteers or contractors shall not date, have sexual relations or have an inappropriate relationship with any student, regardless of whether the student is enrolled in our school system or another. These boundaries must be maintained regardless of the student’s age, the perceived consensual nature of the relationship, the location of the activity or whether the employee directly supervises the student.”
The new and revamped policies also state a number of requirements for teachers, staff and volunteers.
Among the required items in the new policies and procedures is the requirement of training for newly hired employees to specifically address “red flags” and “universal precautions” of child abuse and the requirements for reporting suspected abuse. The training will also include a criminal history check as well as fingerprinting and a check of Child Protective Services (CPS) records.
Comprehensive training will also be required for all school system staff on an annual basis. Volunteers will also undergo a screening process before they will be allowed to serve a school. Families and community members who want to work in the classroom will need training on appropriate boundaries with students and on reporting suspected child abuse.
Multiple board members, along with a public comment speaker, said they were concerned the policies might deter community members from volunteering at the schools. However, Eubanks said the school system is still very interested in taking on volunteers, but not at the cost of student safety.
“The board of education encourages family and community participation in volunteer activities that support student learning and development,” Eubanks said. “Parents, families, community members and groups play crucial roles in nurturing student success. These updates and revisions to existing policies are designed to protect children as they engage with volunteers, faculty and staff.”
Maxwell said the school system is also looking into employee and student use of social media. The school system has already started working with principals on what is required of them if they suspect or are told a child is being abused.
Principals and maintenance staff will also conduct safety surveys of the school buildings to check for doors that do not latch correctly, blind spots in the school and unsecured and unsupervised areas to mitigate against “opportunities for abuse and criminal conduct.”