GREENBELT – Parents of students at Dora Kennedy French Immersion are baffled at the handling of abuse allegations regarding teachers at the school.
It’s been a year since Xander and Alana Faber filed a report against their children’s teacher, alleging abuse in the classroom and they have yet to see anything significant done to address the issue. The family reported the issue to the school, to the Prince George’ County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell, their school board member, and to the school system and they have not heard about an investigation or outcome.
“We couldn’t convince Dora Kennedy at the time, or Prince George’s County Public Schools, to take our report seriously. To actually investigate what was going on at the school,” Xander said.
It was in October of 2014 that the Faber’s children came home from school and told their parents their son had been spanked in school. At first, they were hesitant. They separated their children and questioned them to make sure their stories were the same.
“The children told us that my son had been jumping up and down while the class was singing, so the teacher asked the class to tell her which child had misbehaved and deserved to be punished,” Alana said in a blog post on the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools website. “The majority of students pointed to my son, so he was called to the front of the class and struck until he cried.”
In the state of Maryland, under Education Code 7-308, corporal punishment is banned. The code states, “(A) principal, vice principal, or other employee may not administer corporal punishment to discipline a student in a public school in the state,” however it also states disciplinary measures deemed appropriate to maintain an “atmosphere of order” may be permitted. Counties are able to decide what those measures are and may vary slightly.
According to a U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data collection in 2006, school officials administered corporal punishment to 223,190 students in the United States between 2006 and 2007, resulting in thousands of students requesting medical treatment.
Xander said his family had never received notice of his son misbehaving in class before and never had an indication of anything going wrong.
“We would have never condoned spanking as a correctional behavior anyway and we were never given that choice,” he said.
The Fabers took their concerns to the school the next day, where they filed a written report. They were assured the teacher would not be left alone with students during the investigation into the report. The family was assured their complaint would be taken seriously, however the Fabers moved their children to another classroom and asked their students not be alone with the accused teacher.
At the time they did not take their report to the police, or to child protective services on their own – a decision Xander said he now regrets.
In spring of 2015, Alana and Xander discovered their child’s former teacher was in the classroom with their children and threatened to “beat their behinds if they did not behave.”
“We believed for months this situation had been handled and then we find out this teacher had been in our daughter’s classroom, alone and verbally threatening them,” Xander said.
“It was at this point we realized something had gone wrong, and we contacted the CEO and our Board of Education representative to find out if they knew anything about the status of our case. It seemed unconscionable to us that the teacher would have been allowed to remain in the classroom, unsupervised, threatening and hitting students,” Alana wrote. “Our case was then forwarded to PGCPS Security Services, and it was at that point we learned that the principal had done nothing with our report of abuse.”
Under Maryland family law, article 5-704, any school professional “who has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse, shall notify the local department or the appropriate law enforcement agency.”
Sherrie Johnson, spokesperson for PGCPS, said the school system is looking into the matter, but could not release any information.
“The allegations are still under investigation and it is a legal matter; therefore, PGCPS has no further comment on the issue,” she said.
With a new investigation underway, the Faber family was again assured there would be action taken to mitigate the issue, however they have not heard anything about the investigation and were told they do not have rights to know the outcome of the investigation.
It was then that Alana and Xander removed their children from Dora Kennedy.
“We had them removed from the school because we realized we could not trust the administration at the school to keep out kids safe. We saw no reason to believe the abuse was not continuing in another form,” he said.
At the end of October, the principal of Dora Kennedy was put on temporary leave, according to a letter sent to parents from the school. Although he has been put on leave, that does not mean he has been permanently removed.
“Mrs. Clara Yancey will serve as acting principal of Dora Kennedy French Immersion. We feel it was best to make this change, so we can be assured we are moving forward on a path that is guided by fairness, integrity, and transparency for everyone,” the letter read.
The teacher in question transferred out of the county at the end of the school year.
Now, the Fabers are reaching out to other parents and the community and found, what Xander calls, an apparent “culture of abuse” within the school.
“Another parent told us her daughter had witnessed spankings as recently as April of 2015. This child also said no other teacher was present in the classroom. Then another parent came forward. And then another,” Alana wrote. “All of these parents told us they had tried to complain to the administration and had their concerns dismissed, with the administration referring to one parent as a ‘liar’ and another as a ‘trouble maker.’ One parent had complained two years before our children even entered the school.”
Another parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said two instructors, separate from the Faber’s allegation, also struck his son at Dora Kennedy. He said when his son told him about the alleged abuse last May, he was hesitant to report it. He did not want to ruin a teacher’s life or the school’s reputation.
“We did not want to be alarmist,” he said.
The parent said his son was hit by a student volunteer at the school and, when he reported the incident to the school, was told the student would be removed.
“Just a few days later the student volunteer was left alone in the classroom with my son and slapped him in the face,” the father said. “So we went back and we were like ‘what the heck, you told us this was taken care of’ and we got the story that the teacher didn’t understand what it meant when the principal said not to have that student in the room anymore.”
Both the father and the Fabers believe their unquestioning trust in school safety is broken, but both believe the school, as a whole, is not responsible. In fact, they said, many families have positive experiences at the school.
Going forward, the parent said he wants to see something that shows the school system is taking these allegations seriously.
“There should be some accountability, whatever that takes is not up to me and it’s appropriate that its not up to me, but there needs to be accountability and there needs to be some sort of reporting from the county on what they found and what was done and what the future is going to look like,” the father said. “Something transparent.”
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