UPPER MARLBORO — Some on the Prince George’s County Board of Education think the county school system is in need of a complete culture shift after continued investigation into the recent loss of federal Head Start funding. Head Start was a heavily-discussed item at last week’s board of education meeting as numerous public speakers chose […]
UPPER MARLBORO — Some on the Prince George’s County Board of Education think the county school system is in need of a complete culture shift after continued investigation into the recent loss of federal Head Start funding.
Head Start was a heavily-discussed item at last week’s board of education meeting as numerous public speakers chose the topic for public comment and the board took time on the agenda to discuss its feelings about Head Start.
During that time Kevin Maxwell, the chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), took a moment to update the board and public on any progress made with Head Start.
“Members of my executive team visited every Head Start classroom and will continue to do so, though not every single day,” he said. “Prior to the beginning of the school year, all Head Start staff received training on suspected child abuse and neglect and the additional training for positive behavior techniques.”
Reporting of both abuse and the use of corporal punishment in the Head Start classrooms were part of the report done by the Administration for Children and Families (AFC) that led to the loss of federal funding.
Maxwell said the trainings will continue all year and now, all matters relating to child safety in Head Start will be reported directly to the deputy superintendents. He said the school system is continuing to meet with the AFC and is working on posting updates on the PGCPS website.
During the course of the meeting, several board members raised questions about the program and the progress the school system had made in the past weeks.
Student member Juwan Blocker said he was curious to see if school administration had conducted any type of investigation into the Head Start debacle and what PGCPS was doing to make sure they are transparent in such an investigation.
Maxwell said the school system is going through a “fact-finding” process, but said there are pieces to such an investigation that PGCPS cannot share.
“There are things that you do not, and cannot legally discuss in public about individual employees, but we are following the process that is well entrenched in Prince George’s County,” Maxwell said.
Blocker pressed Maxwell on which leaders specifically will be held accountable for the issues within Head Start, to which Maxwell replied “the ones that need to be held accountable.”
Blocker later made a motion to have the school system investigated by an outside party. The motion was met with controversy over board bylaws, but after the board chair ruled it in order, the motion failed.
Others on the board wanted to know what school administration could have done when the abuse was first found in the spring. Boardmember Edward Burroughs III questioned what the school system knew and when, asking if any corrective actions were taken to try to keep the Head Start money.
Maxwell said the school system is continuing to investigate and create a timeline of events that occurred during the time investigated by the AFC and what was done after the report. Burroughs, however, said that did not answer his question and wants to know what PGCPS administrators were doing in March, April and May to ensure students were not continuing to be abused.
“That’s part of the investigation of who needs to be held accountable,” Maxwell said.
Board Chair Segun Eubanks further explained that a “failure of this magnitude” doesn’t happen at one level and said the school system’s review will find those responsible for the mistakes and oversights.
Additionally, Burroughs said he believes the cases of abuse in the Head Start program are a sign that abuse may be in other facets of the school system.
“The federal government only observed the Head Start program, but the Head Start programs are in schools and so I have a concern that there could be other cases of abuse that are not in the Head Start program but are in other schools throughout the system,” Burroughs said.
Maxwell insisted the school system has been very public in the retraining of staff “multiple times in the past few months.” The board and school system has also worked on and passed new policies regarding the reporting of abuse and teacher behavior.
However, Burroughs said he doesn’t think the issue lies within the rules and policies laid out in the school system.
“I don’t think the issue that we have here is policy,” he said. “It is unacceptable, I think under all policies, to abuse a kid. So, we don’t have a policy issue, we have a culture issue.”
Burroughs said telling parents PGCPS has changed its policies and revamped its training to retrain all employees is not reassuring, because under any former policy, child abuse was still unacceptable.
Boardmember Zabrina Epps agreed, and said she also has concerns about the culture in schools and throughout the school system.
“Now we’re talking about another issue, which is not about reporting but it is about behavior, like interaction with the children and treating children a certain way,” she said.
Both Epps and Boardmember Verjeana Jacobs questioned the quality of the training teachers received in regards to acceptable behavior with students.
Monique Davis, a deputy superintendent with PGCPS, said the school system has worked hard on correcting the process for reporting abuse, but is now facing a new challenge in addressing teacher behavior.
“Now, what we are facing is that we do report, but what our challenge is, and it’s complicated because it is behavior, is now how do we prevent the behavior from even occurring, so we do not have to report a situation,” Davis said.
Davis agreed that addressing those behaviors goes hand-in-hand with the culture concerns of both Epps and Burroughs. She said Maxwell began work with the Arbinger Institute three years ago to change adult-to-adult culture in the school system.
“What we are finding now is that we are also needing to address adult-to-child culture as well,” Davis said. “But to change adult behavior takes time.”
Epps also expressed concern with the way the school system handles the verbal abuse of older children from their educators as well, saying that policies and procedures are not aligned and do not allow for reprimand in such incidents.
Davis emphasized that there is a “collective commitment” within PGCPS “to getting better.”