UPPER MARLBORO (WUSA9) – From allegations of child abuse, to cries of “cover up”, the Prince George’s County School system has been upended by a scandal in the Head Start program that forced federal officials to take over, and cost the a county $6.4 million grant.
Here is a timeline that helps explain how school officials kept an allegedly abusive teacher working with children while failing to meet federal demands to protect children’s safety.
Dec. 17, 2015: A Head Start teacher at the H. Winship Wheatley Early Education Center in Capitol Heights, Md. allegedly humiliates a 3-year-old boy who wet himself during naptime. The teacher is accused of forcing the child to stand in front of his classmates with wet clothes on. She is accused of forcing him to mop up urine while she takes photos. She sends the photos and mocking texts to the child’s mother.
WORKER ACCUSED OF DISCOURAGING REPORT
Dec. 22, 2015: Victim’s mother discusses her concerns with a Head Start Family Service worker but is discouraged from reporting the incident, according to a federal report.
FIRST REPORT KEPT “IN HOUSE” DESPITE THE LAW
Jan, 12, 2016: The mother has a change of heart and formally reports the incident to the Family Service Worker. Despite a law requiring immediate reporting to Prince George’s County Child Protective Services or police, the worker keeps the matter inhouse by sending an email reporting a “Parent Concern” to Principal Julie Orgettas and Head Start Program director Sandra Kee.
TEACHER PLACED ON LEAVE, BUT NOT FOR LONG
Jan. 14, 2016: The Wheatley teacher is placed on administrative leave. She will be reinstated and moved to another school within a month and will continue to work with children even after federal investigators begin an inquiry and confirm the allegations.
VICTIM’S MOM TELLS TOP OFFICIALS EARLY ON
Jan. 19, 2016: The victim’s mother sends an email, including screengrabs of the abusive photos and texts throughout the administration of the Prince George’s County School System. Recipients include: School System CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell, program supervisor Laura Barbee Matthews, area instruction director Dr. Judith White, and Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Gladys Whitehead.
OUTSIDE AUTHORTIES FINALLY NOTIFIED
Jan. 20, 2016: The abuse incident is formally reported to Prince George’s County Child Protective Services by the school system, 8 days later than legally required. While CPS does not return a finding against the teacher, her actions appear to have violated Head Start and PGCPS policies against bullying students and taking and sharing photographs of children. Even so, she is cleared to return to the school.
VICTIM’S MOM APPLIES FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER
Feb. 8 2016: With the teacher off suspension, the victim’s mother swears out peace order against teacher to prevent her from entering the building where the child is, according to Maryland court online records.
HEAD START OFFICIALS NOTIFIED
Feb. 10, 2015 PGCPS Head Start Director notifies Head Start Regional office of the incident.
“SHE WILL BE MISSED”: TEACHER IS TRANSFERRED
Feb. 19, 2016: The teacher is assigned to work at a different Early Education Center. An announcement to parents from Principal Orgettas to parents says, “She will be missed, but we wish her well with this new opportunity.” While no longer being paid from the federal Head Start grant, the teacher remains an employee of PGCPS and is assigned to work directly with children.
FEDERAL INVESTIGATORS GO TO WORK
Feb. 22, 2016: A federal investigation is launched by the US Administration for Children and Families. This is the same day PGCPS announces the formation of a school safety task force as the system grapples with allegations that teacher’s aide Deonte Carraway produced child porn at the Sylvania Woods Elementary School
SCHOOL OFFICIALS ACCUSED OF BLOCKING PROBE
Feb. 23, 2016: Federal investigators demand documentation on the school system’s reports to Child Protective Services but school officials “refused to provide the information”, according to the investigators’ report.
TOP OFFICIALS NOTIFIED OF DEFICIENCIES BUT TEACHER STILL ON THE JOB
Feb. 29, 2016: Prince George’s County Public Schools is formally notified by the US Administration for Children and Families that the report of abuse is confirmed. A demand to correct “deficiencies” is included in the report. Among the recipients of the report is PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell. The teacher in the matter remains on the job at her new assignment.
PGCPS NEEDS MORE TIME
March 4, 2016: Extension requested to submit corrective action plan, which was subsequently granted.
PGCPS TRIES TO CORRECT PROBLEMS
Mar. 10, 2016: As part of an effort to comply with the Federal findings, at least 10 Head Start teachers and staff get retrained on confidentiality rules.
PARENT COUNCIL BRIEFED ON SITUATION
March 16, 2016: The Head Start Advisory Council, a group made up of parents, holds a meeting and discusses the federal findings, according to minutes of the meeting.
ALLEGATIONS OF A “COVER-UP”
April 7, 2016: PGCPS CEO Maxwell’s Chief of Staff George Margolies sends an email to a deputy superintendent reporting that he has successfully prevented a Board of Education member from putting the Head Start Advisory Council’s minutes on the agenda for public discussion in an upcoming Board meeting. Opponents will later seize on this as proof of an attempted “coverup” at the highest levels. Maxwell denies this. He says the email was taken out of context and, in fact, it was a discussion about how to handle reporting of various matters to the Board of Education over a period of years without clogging the Board’s agenda.
THE CLOCK IS TICKING
April 11, 2016: The deadline set by federal investigators for the correction of deficiencies.
April 12-14, 2016: Federal follow-up inspections occur which determine deficiencies are not corrected. PGCPS officials claim they were not notified of these findings until August.
NO PUBLIC DISCUSSION AT BOARD OF EDUCATION
April 14, 2016: Board of Education meets but does not discuss Head Start in public session. The minutes of the Advisory Council are posted online as “follow up items” and go unnoticed by the public and press. Board Chairman Dr. Segun Eubanks later says the board was briefed on Head Start during a private executive session that some members did not attend.
PGCPS GRAPPLES WITH CRISIS
May 31, 2016: The School Safety Task Force formed after the Deonte Carraway child porn case releases 61 recommendations including calls for better background checks, supervision and training of staff.
MORE NEGLECT AND ABUSE DISCOVERED
June 9 , 2016: An unattended 5year old wanders away from the Langley Park Head Start program and arrives home alone.
June 15, 2016: Head Start teachers at the James Ryder elementary school are accused of humiliating and abusing preschoolers by forcing them to hold boxes of heavy books overhead as punishment.
June 10-17, 2016: A federal follow up investigation determines new deficiencies are present and others remain uncorrected. PGCPS officials say they were not informed of this until August.
THE HAMMER FALLS
Aug 12, 2016 The US Administration for Children and Families formally notifies the PGCPS that it’s $6.4 million Head Start grant is suspended because of the system’s failure to protect children. The report notes that some PGCPS officials refused to provide requested information during the investigation. A process begins to transfer the management and budget of Prince George’s County Head Start to a Denver-based contractor.
TEACHER SUSPENDED AGAIN NOW THAT CASE IS PUBLIC
August 18, 2016: The teacher in the December abuse incident at the Wheatley school is placed on administrative leave for a second time. This time she will be recommended for firing.
SCHOOL CEO STRUGGLES WITH QUESTIONS
Aug. 23, 2016: At a press event on first day of school, Maxwell says he didn’t know about the Head Start situation until “sometime in April”, Despite federal records showing he and other top officials were notified on February 29. Maxwell says: “We’ve had a very small number of people make a very large number of people look very poorly.”
PGCPS THOWS IN THE TOWEL
Aug. 25, 2016: The Prince George’s County Board of Education votes not to appeal the Head Start grant suspension which will allow PGCPS to negotiate an interim operating agreement and leaves open the door to re-apply for the grant in the future.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Aug 29, 2016: Head Start’s first day of school.
TEACHERS AND STAFF FIRED
Sept 1, 2016 Maxwell announces that 6 employees involved in the scandal, including the teacher in the Wheatley incident have been put on administrative leave. He says he has fired 3 and recommends 3 others for immediate firing by the Board of Education.
CEO FACES QUESTIONS
Sept. 20, 2016: Maxwell tells a WUSA9 reporter that “the teacher was immediately moved out of Head Start Program” in the early days of the scandal. He did not mention she was merely transferred off the Head Start Grant and continued to work as a PGCPS teacher at another school.
TOP STAFFER FIRED
Sept. 21, 2016: Chief of Staff George Margolies is fired after his email is leaked to WUSA9.
CALLS FOR CEO TO RESIGN AND AN OUTSIDE AUDIT
Sept. 22, 2016: As dissident Board members call for Maxwell to step down, PGCPS announces it will request an independent audit of the situation from the Maryland State Department of Education.