UPPER MARLBORO – Even after a two-hour session with Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) officials and members of the county school board, the Prince George’s County Council still didn’t have all its questions answered. The briefing – which was made clear by Chair Derrick Davis that it was not a hearing – came a […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Even after a two-hour session with Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) officials and members of the county school board, the Prince George’s County Council still didn’t have all its questions answered.
The briefing – which was made clear by Chair Derrick Davis that it was not a hearing – came a few weeks after news that PGCPS would lose grant money for the Head Start Program and days after the county learned of further child safety issues.
Davis said the county council’s highest priority is the safety and welfare of county children, though he said the role of the council is merely oversight and it does not have the power to fire school administrators.
“It’s the responsibility of adults to keep children safe,” he said. “All of us as leaders in this county have a duty to do everything possible to ensure that our school system fulfills its most sacred duty: protect every student and provide the very best education possible in a safe and caring learning environment.”
Davis called the recent incidents “shocking, horrifying and frankly absolutely unacceptable,” and many on the council echoed his sentiments when asking their questions of the school administration.
Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer (CEO) of PGCPS, as well as Deputy Superintendent Monique Davis, Chief Operating Officer Monica Goldson and PGCPS General Counsel Shauna Battle, fielded questions from the council alongside Board Chair Segun Eubanks and Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston. Council appointed board member Curtis Valentine was also in attendance.
Davis said the community and parents of the school system are reacting to the continued allegations and instances of abuse and neglect with “outrage and increased skepticism” to “institution problems that have become apparent.”
“Quite frankly, the members of this body share a deep, deep concern, and individually and collectively we believe more needs to be done to improve the school board’s administrative oversight and the school system’s managerial functions,” Davis said.
Throughout the course of the briefing, PGCPS and board administration answered questions from the council on everything from the timeline of the reported incidents within Head Start to any purposed plan of action moving forward.
Councilmembers questioned the increase in reported incidents and some said they fear for the coming months and what may be brought to light, but Maxwell said the uptick in reports is a direct result of training.
“I want to say that when we began really, really pushing and demanding on the reporting and retraining on reporting, what we got was exactly (that) – I don’t think anybody should really be surprised that we go more reporting,” Maxwell said. “And we are working through those reports to verify what is and what isn’t.”
Maxwell said the school system is in the process of creating and executing an action plan to ensure student safety in the coming months and for good. He said the school system has already terminated three employees and he has submitted the request to terminate three more.
Battle further added that those who were terminated or will likely be terminated soon included two teachers, a school nurse, a family service worker and a school supervisor.
Councilmember Obie Patterson pushed on the termination point and said he didn’t feel there had been enough corrective actions taking place within PGCPS.
“I want to leave here today thinking that we have some corrective actions in place that are going to get the job done and we won’t be back here in another three months talking about the same thing with nothing really working,” he said.
Maxwell and Battle assured the council those responsible would be held accountable and the school system will continue with retraining.
“There’s more to do for sure and I’d like to say that you won’t see anymore of these,” Maxwell said.
But both Maxwell and council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros acquiesced that, with a further emphasis on reporting the school system, as well as Child Protective Services, will be dealing with increased reports without increased staff.
In fact, Monique Davis said the processing of reports in PGCPS has quadrupled this year from the previous average of 110 reports per year.
Glaros also suggested the council have a full briefing with PGCPS about the recommendations of the Student Safety Task Force and the updated policies and procedures. She said although the task force called for an annual report, she believes the CEO should report more frequently.
“I do believe, in light of the ongoing conversations, that it is best to have, frankly quarterly reports may actually be too infrequent. It might need to be monthly reporting that needs to be done as we move forward with those recommendations,” Glaros said.
Councilmembers also pushed for specifics when it came to what the school board and school administration did to prevent the loss of the Head Start grant.
Maxwell, Goldson, Boston and Battle all provided some detail about the timeline of incidents within the school system, but Councilmember Andrea Harrison still could not understand why it took so long for changes to be made.
“These were babies. Three years old, really? Anyone, in my opinion, who would protect anyone who abuses a child is as guilty as the person who is doing the abuse,” she said.
Monique Davis said the school system is also working to address culture within the school system and said she doesn’t feel blame for the perceived culture can be put on school leaders.
“Changing behavior of adults, though, is very difficult and I’m not sure if we can place responsibility on our leaders…to be responsible for the supervision of 20,000 employees and be responsible for their behaviors,” she said.
However, she said, the leaders can be held responsible to “act swiftly” if employees chose poor behavior and poor interactions with children.
Councilwoman Karen Toles, however, was unsatisfied with the answers she received when she asked for Eubanks’ and Boston’s plans for moving forward.
Both said a cultural shift within the school system would be hard without help from the entire community, including the council, county leadership and the faith community.
But Toles said she did not hear a plan from either board member and said she doesn’t feel there is any strategy at all.
“I’m putting my time out there to work with you on the strategy and the plan to do something different,” Toles said. “We can’t wait for another child to be harmed.”