UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) Head Start program is looking at starting the 2016/2017 school year without $6.5 million in federal funding after an investigation turned up reports of abuse in the program. On Monday, the Administration for Children and Families (AFC), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) Head Start program is looking at starting the 2016/2017 school year without $6.5 million in federal funding after an investigation turned up reports of abuse in the program.
On Monday, the Administration for Children and Families (AFC), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, issued a notice of termination of federal funds to Segun Eubanks, the chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education. The program currently serves 932 children.
Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer for PGCPS, and Eubanks said the school system is in the process of evaluating their options and has been in constant communication with the AFC. Maxwell said he does not know, specifically, at this moment which route the school system will take to remedy the deficiencies, but guaranteed Head Start will begin on Aug. 29 as planned.
The letter said the AFC had conducted a review of the county’s Head Start program on Feb. 22 and based on the information gathered during the process the AFC found “an area of immediate deficiency…that created serious concerns regarding program accountability and quality control for ensuring staff abided by the standards of conduct requiring them to use only positive methods of child guidance.”
The AFC provided the school system with their concerns in a Feb. 29 report that was received by the school system on March 1, according to AFC documents.
“When a deficiency of this nature is identified, the AFC will direct the grantee to take immediate corrective actions to ensure that staff, consultants and volunteers abide by the program’s standards of conduct and that only positive methods of child guidance are utilized as not to subject children to corporal punishment, emotional or physical abuse, humiliation, or denial of basic need,” said Brenda Hewitt and Blanca Enriquez in their letter to Eubanks.
The school system had until April 11 to correct and address any concerns. The AFC again conducted monitoring in county Head Start schools between April 12-14 and June 10-17 and found “at least one uncorrected deficiency” in the county program.
Raven Hill, a spokesperson for PGCPS, said the school system was told on Monday their “Head Start program grant was terminated due to failure to ‘timely correct one or more deficiencies.’”
“We are reviewing options with the Administration for Children & Families regarding Head Start. The program will begin as planned on Monday, August 29. Our goal is for children and families to have uninterrupted access to the Head Start program and services,” she said in a statement.
Hill did not indicate whether or not the school system had worked to correct the issues found by the report but said that more information would be made available later in the day.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon in the Sasscer Administration Building, Maxwell said the findings of the AFC report were “completely unacceptable.”
“We are deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to this decision,” he said. “A handful of people used unacceptably poor judgement that compromised children’s learning environments, personal welfare and a program that has positively impacted countless lives in Prince George’s County over many years.”
The alleged incidents specifically outlined in the report occurred at the Head Start program at James Ryder Randall Elementary School, H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center and Langley Park McCormick Elementary School.
During the first round of reviews, the AFC found incidents where PGCPS was not following policy. At Wheatley, a 3-year-old was forced to mop up his own accident, which has occurred during nap time. The child was photographed, still in wet clothes, mopping up his urine in the classroom.
The photograph was sent, by the teacher, to the parent with the message “LOL, he worked that mop tho.”
The AFC noted that this particular incident violated two separate policies, as the teacher did not abide by rules stating teachers should not use humiliating tactics for punishment, as well as they should use “only positive methods of child guidance,” meaning they should not use any form of corporal punishment nor emotional or physical abuse resulting in humiliation or isolation.
A breakdown also occurred in the reporting process of the alleged abuse, as the AFC found that after the parent complained about the incident and the text message, the family services department did not immediately report the concern to Child Protective Services. At the same time, two teacher’s assistants, who were allegedly in the room when the incident occurred, both signed statements stating they had not seen the incident occur, according to AFC documents.
“The grantee did not report incidents 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,” the documents read.
However, the AFC said PGCPS did correct the reporting breakdown, forwarding incident reports to the correct offices, and re-trained staff as well as revisited policies and procedures. The head of the Head Start program also created a follow-up form to check on abuse and neglect cases.
The AFC also charged PGCPS with reviewing its cell phone and photography policy, as information about students had been shared through an “unsecured manner,” violating confidentiality policies. The report had found that a teacher had sent information about a child to “someone who was not authorized by the child’s parent to receive the information.”
The AFC found that PGCPS has ensured that teacher and volunteers will not share confidential information regarding children and families. The teacher was also moved out of the Head Start program.
While the AFC determined the incident at Wheatley was corrected, during their review in June they found the administrative efforts toward ensuring staff followed policy standards were ineffective.
On June 15, they found another case of alleged abuse at James Ryder Randall.
“A teacher and an assistant teacher at the James Ryder Randall Elementary School Head Start Center forced two children to stand in the Head Start classroom holding object over their heads for an extended period of time as a physical punishment for their behavior during nap time,” the report reads.
The report goes on to detail the students crying and being punished for dropping the box they were told to hold. While the incident was reported to Child Protective Services, the AFC believes the overall deficiency remained uncorrected as the PGCPS policy seemed to be ineffective in ensuring teachers do not use corporal or humiliating punishments.
However, since the review PGCPS and the board of education passed new policies and procedures regarding teacher, aide and volunteer cell phone use and proper social media conduct in regards to students. The policies also further emphasize the school system’s stance and rules regarding punishment and reporting of abuse. Those policies were passed by the board in an emergency meeting on Aug. 10.
“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,” Maxwell said in August. “We must use every precaution in issues involving student safety and ensuring safe environments in all of our schools.”
Still, there is more to be done, Maxwell said Wednesday.
“There are still some people that we apparently haven’t gotten through to and we’re going to continue to work until we’ve gotten through to every person. And every person who doesn’t do what they should do in a professional and responsible fashion, we will deal with them in a way that prevents them from working with our children again.” he said.
In a separate finding during the second round of reviews, AFC noted that a child was left unsupervised at Langley Park-McCormick on June 9. The 5-year-old walked home alone after being released from the nurse’s office and finding her usual classroom empty.
“Surveillance video showed the child near the front lobby door of the school at approximately 9 a.m.; however, during this period, staff were not aware the child was missing,” according to the report.
She was found by staff at her home at 10 a.m. and she was unsupervised for approximately 50 minutes, while “the Head Start program did not know where she was for approximately 75 minutes.”
“The grantee did not ensure no child was left unsupervised while under its care; therefore, it was not in compliance with regulation,” the report reads, calling the deficiency a systematic or substantial failure “that the secretary determines involves a threat to health, safety, or civil rights of children and staff.”
The school system has 30 days from Monday to correct the deficiency and a June 9 school memorandum contained new, specific procedures for Head Start children traveling between locations, though the policy was not in place when the incident occurred earlier that day.
Maxwell also assured that the teachers, staff and assistants found conducting the alleged abuse were all in the process of investigation or termination from the school system. He said there is a process the school system has to follow to seek termination, which includes fact finding and recommendations to the board.
“I assure you they won’t be there by the 29th,” Maxwell said.