Category Archives: Public Education

PGCPS System bus drivers call investigations unfair

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UPPER MARLBORO, MD (WUSA9) – Prince George’s County School bus drivers say it’s taking too long to for the school system to investigate a spike in complaints of alleged misconduct, resulting in employees being forced to languish on paid administrative leave for months at a time.

At least 126 bus drivers have been swept up in what some teachers, support staff and administrators have characterized as a “witch hunt” environment created by new policies meant to protect child safety in the wake of abuse scandals in 2016.

In total, at least 636 school employees have been accused of misconduct and placed on paid administrative leave for periods ranging from days to months, according to school officials.

Employees and union representatives say frequently the allegations are completely false, or minor matters that could be dealt with at the school level.

“I feel like my hands are tied and I can’t do my job,” said bus driver Jossalyn Ford, who is also a union shop steward for her AFSCME local.

Ford says the large numbers of drivers placed on leave has resulted in a driver shortage, late busses and an environment of intimidation for the remaining drivers.

Some drivers are afraid to engage with children or intervene to stop rowdy behavior for fear of being accused, Ford said.

“It’s impacting safety,” said Shirley Kirkland of AFSCME.

In the wake of the 2016 scandals, a school safety task force determined too many potential misconduct allegations or suspicions were either not being reported, ignored, or hidden.

Reforms have emphasized that the first responsibility of students and staff is to report any potential violation, no matter how minor. A spike in allegations has resulted.

All allegations are investigated by Prince George’s County Child Protective Services before being handed off to the school system’s security office and administrators.

Employees have complained that students use reporting against adults, who have been put on leave for months while there are investigations into issues as minor as alleged incidental contact in a crowded hallway, using the word “asinine”, or a child getting off at a friend’s bus stop.

School officials say they cannot provide information about how many of the hundreds of allegations have resulted in disciplinary action or were determined to be unfounded.

via wusa9

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Jury awards $100,000 to family of girl in PGCPS school bus assault.

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Responding to a bullying incident caught on video, a jury has said Prince George’s County schools must pay $100,000 to the family of an elementary student who was assaulted by another girl on a school bus as other children agitated for a brawl.

The assault on Saraia Collins, who was a 9-year-old Highland Park Elementary School student at the time, was captured on cellphone videos by other students, and left her with a concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to her attorney and her mother. The family contended the school bus driver should have stopped the vehicle or intervened sooner as the girl was being pummeled and screaming, “Stop! Stop!”

Tierra Holland, Collins’s mother, said bringing the lawsuit wasn’t about money but about holding the school system accountable in the 2015 incident.

“They never apologized, not one time,” said Holland, 32. “If I had gotten an apology or something disciplinary to students, I wouldn’t have done this, but I needed some kind of justice.”

The jury’s verdict was returned Wednesday in county circuit court.

Asked about the case, a spokeswoman for the school system, Lynn McCawley, said that “it is not our policy to comment on legal matters.”

Brian K. McDaniel, the attorney for Holland’s family, said video of the girl’s beating was disseminated on YouTube among students, adding to her trauma.

“The jury took into consideration the actual assault was captured on video and that it is something she will have to deal with for the rest of her life,” McDaniel said.

The incident happened on the afternoon of May 8, 2015, he said. Saraia, a fourth-grade student at the time, was on her way home from school when students on the bus began yelling that they wanted to see a fight.

The bus driver stopped and went to the back of the bus to address the disruption, then returned to the front, McDaniel said.

Another girl on the bus, a second-grader, confronted Saraia at that point, challenging her to fight, video of the incident shows.

 “I’m not fighting you!” Saraia is heard screaming repeatedly on video.

The driver again stops and confronts the students.

“He tells the young lady threatening Saraia, ‘I’m going to take you back to school,’ ” McDaniel said. “He goes back to the front. Then she is assaulted for two minutes.”

The video shows Saraia screaming, “Get out of my face, I’m not going to fight you,” before the second-grader climbs on Saraia’s seat, towers over her and starts to slap her.

“The other kids on the bus are yelling and screaming, and the bus driver doesn’t do anything,” McDaniel said. “He doesn’t file a report or call the police.”

The end of the video shows Saraia curled up in a ball in her seat and crying. A boy mimics and mocks her sobs.

Holland said she was brought to tears when she first saw the video.

Holland said her family had complained to school administrators in the past about incidents involving the student seen on video attacking her daughter, but said the school system never reprimanded the girl. She had to take the video to Prince George’s County police to get action in her daughter’s case, Holland said.

“What we are teaching these children and bullies out there is if you do something wrong, you get a slap on the wrist,” she said.

Holland’s daughter is now 11 and attends private school.

In the two years since the bus attack, Holland said her daughter has changed. The once outgoing “social butterfly” is withdrawn and quiet. She won’t sleep unless a light remains on because she’s afraid of the dark, her mother said.

“I’m hoping that eventually she will go back to being her,” Holland said. “I want her to get her youth back and be a child.”

Via Washington Post

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PGCPS Teacher morale being crushed in Prince George’s County

Still0414_00000_1492211656404_9228934_ver1.0BOWIE, MD (WUSA9) – Teacher morale is being crushed by a “witch hunt” atmosphere in Prince George’s County that has resulted in at least 636 school staffers being placed on paid administrative leave since August to investigate allegations of misconduct that prove to be unfounded or minor, according to union officials and a teacher who is currently being investigated.

“Teachers now feel they can’t do their job,” said Ritchie Knox, a masters degree-holding art teacher who remains on paid administrative leave after a misconduct allegation leveled against in in mid-January.

“There are good and great teachers on leave right now for things that wouldn’t have been (issues) a year or two years ago,” Knox said.

RELATED: Hundreds of Prince George’s Co. staff suspended for misconduct cases

The irony, Knox says, is that reported a concern he had to Prince George’s Child Protective Services himself, and is now the one paying the price by being taken off the job.

“I bought into the system and I followed the protocols and training,” Knox said. “I trust they’ll figure out what’s going on and I’ll be exonerated and I’ll get back to work.”

Knox and employee union officials say the school system was not prepared to handle the flood of reports they got after dramatic reforms made in 2016 regarding child safety in the wake of abuse scandals, including the conviction of a school volunteer who for coercing children to make pornographic cell phone videos.

All school employees were retrained with an emphasis on reporting any suspicion or incident, no matter how minor, and regardless of whether there was hard evidence immediately available.

Teachers and principals have been placed on leave and investigated for issues as minor has having incidental “bumping” contact with students in crowded hallways, according to Doris Reed of the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel, the union representing principals.

Reed said in one case a principal was fired even though authorities could not sustain the report against her.

In another case, a school staffer was placed on leave for using the word “asinine”, according to Knox.

RELATED: Abuse allegations on the rise in Prince George’s Co. schools

The paid administrative leave can last from two days to several months, according to Raven Hill, spokesperson for PGCPS.

Knox says colleagues complain that unruly students are quick to make reports of misconduct in order to punish teachers they have conflict with.

Parents are becoming concerned.

“Some of these students are making incidents up because they are failing classes and getting back at the teachers,” reported one parent during a WUSA9 Facebook Live discussion on the subject Friday.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FScottBroomWUSA9%2Fvideos%2F739308726240012%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Another parent complained her child has not had a regular math class for more than two months because of the crisis.

Board of Education member Edward Burroughs has begun to circulate a petition demanding a review of the system for reporting and investigating allegations of wrongdoing by school staff.

RELATED: Teacher’s aide accused of molesting children on Prince George’s Co. school bus

The administration of school CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell made a mistake by not including teachers or labor leaders in the safety task force formed after the 2016 abuse scandals, according to Theresa Dudley, President of the Prince George’s Educators Association, the union representing teachers.

The teacher’s union is concerned too many children are going without proper instruction because of the turmoil caused when teachers are yanked out of the classroom for investigations of minor misconduct.

Knox said he supports the school CEO and the efforts to make student safety the top priority, but the must be balance.

“The pendulum has swung too far,” Knox said.

PGCPS and Prince George’s Child Protective Services have added additional investigators to handle the increase in reports, Hill said.  She could not provide an exact number.

School officials say they cannot say how many accused school staff have had complaints cleared with no penalties, or how many have had complaints sustained against them.

Via WUSA9princegeorges1

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PGCPS SCHOOL BOARD REFORM DEFEATS IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY SESSION AFTER SABOTAGE

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Delegate Carolyn Howard

PG -402-17 which was introduced by the Delegate Carolyn Howard and Senator Muse representing Prince George’s County at the request of County Citizenry and to oppose the role of the County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III failed to pass the general assembly after sabotage by public officials in Maryland.    In this blog, we reported that, on February 22, 2017, Delegate Carolyn Howard who is the Deputy Speaker Pro Tem and a Member of  Ways and Means Committee  decided to sabotage the bill and engage the issues in the dark.

Although many groups in Maryland got partial victories in Annapolis, advocates for reform of Prince George’s County’s school board can’t say the same. The measure to repeal HB 1107 and, supporters feel, give more power back to the board’s elected members, was weakened from its initial state but still failed to pass out of a Senate committee due to issues of public corruption which is an ongoing problem in Maryland.

According to the Prince George’s County Sentinel, Theresa Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said the news was disappointing.

“I think that there clearly is some room for improvement in checks and balances, and I would be disappointed if it didn’t pass,” she said Monday afternoon.

We covered the story here previously and here >>>Democracy Dies in Darkness – The case of Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard.princegeorges1

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BOARD MEMBERS CALL FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION AT DISTRICT HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY

District+Heights+ElementaryDISTRICT HEIGHTS – Although no mold spores were found in District Heights Elementary School, board members and several school-related unions are demanding removal of personnel and students from the school while air quality is improved in the building.

Last week, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) hired an outside contractor to test District Heights Elementary for mold and decreased air quality after the community and some board of education members took their complaints to the media about students and staff illnesses they believe were caused by mold in the school.

“This is the definition of an emergency, where almost half of your staff and a significant population of your students have reported illness from a school system facility,” said Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III.

Burroughs and other members of the board have posted on their social media pages calling for immediate action to be taken at the school for the safety of both students and school personnel.

Additionally, the teacher’s union associated with the school system and its staff sent a letter to PGCPS asking for immediate action to ensure student and staff safety.

“Based on the persistent and prolonged symptoms experienced by numerous students and staff, it is quite evident there is an irritant present (at the school) that needs to be investigated. It is our opinion that your administrative procedure fully justifies our request for immediate relocation,” the letter reads.

Theresa Dudley, president of the teacher’s union, said she knew of a heightened absentee rate at the school, possibly indicating a health issue in the building

“The absentee rate is very high there because parents are concerned about their kids. And if kids are not learning, where are they,” she asked.

The letter signed by Dudley to the school’s chief executive officer says the union will file a formal complaint if students and staff are not removed from the building.

However, the results from the March 30 Tidewater, Inc. tests of the building showed only slight elevations of spores in some locations of the school and no outward signs of mold. The testing included 10 separate locations of the school, picked out by the school’s principal and checked for indoor air quality. Two offices, six classrooms, a media room and a storage room were included on the test.

Mark Fossett, who is the PGCPS supporting services head, said there is no standard to measure against in regards to mold spore counts but said that, in general, the counts inside a building should be lower than outside. The spore count outside and around the elementary school building was approximately 990 per cubic meter.

“When those results came back, nine out of 10 of those spaces tested below what the outside ratings were,” Fossett said. “Only one, room four, tested marginally above. Those numbers came back at 1,250 in that area.”

Fossett said the contractor indicated those slight elevations would not impact total air quality.

In addition, the health department also inspected the building and found no signs of mold. However part of the Tidewater test found dust analysis results below federal guidelines and elevated amounts of carbon dioxide in four classrooms, according to a letter from Tidewater.

In general, Fossett said, what the test found was poor air quality throughout the building due to a number of maintenance issues and the age of the school. Due to the dust analysis, another air quality test was conducted on May 5 on the entire building, according to the school system.

Tidewater gave PGCPS three major recommendations based on the findings of the air quality test, including charging the school system with replacing all water-stained ceiling tiles, ensuring the HVAC system is working properly and adjusting the system to improve air supply throughout the building. In response, PGCPS’s building services staff began work on the building and repaired 23 of 25 exhaust fans, cleaned out and serviced 11 of 26 classroom ventilators, cleaned and replaced the school’s air filters, and is in the process of cleaning and checking the entire ventilation system at the school.

“There were significant items that were on the property which were at non-functional – not functioning at their capacity,” Fossett said. “There was a significant number of exhaust fans – we have a total of 25 on that building and approximately 50 percent were not working or not working optimally.”

District Heights Elementary was scheduled for a number of maintenance projects over the summer, which have now been expedited, Fossett said. PGCPS anticipates adding six heat pumps in three classrooms, assessing the indoor air quality again and servicing 15 ventilators, two roof top units and the cafeteria air handler, all by April 13. The school system plans to install a third roof top unit by April 26 and replace all classroom temperature controls and the cafeteria air handler controls by May 15.

A number of other maintenance projects are scheduled for May through the summer, according to a PGCPS release.

Dudley said although she is confident in the school system’s plan of action, she is unsure if students and staff should remain in the building while its vents are cleaned.

“Their plan is good. I think carrying out the plan while students and staff are in the building is misguided,” she said, explaining that whatever was sitting stagnant in the air ducts until that point is now being blown throughout the building. “I think the school system has an obligation to their students and staff members.”

She said she had already heard that one staff member and one child got sick last week due to fumes in the school. This is something Burroughs also brought up during the recent board of education meeting.

Burroughs said, during that meeting, that he also thinks students and staff should be temporarily located while PGCPS works to improve the air quality.

“We still have employees getting sick and we still have students getting sick,” Burroughs said. “Until we know for sure that the building is safe for students and staff to work in, I think we should pull them out.”

But several members of the board argued against “rash” decision making, including K. Alexander Wallace, who is the board representative for the District Heights area.

Wallace said the principal of the school does not want to relocate and he trusts both the leadership at District Heights and the science that indicated there is no immediate threat to health at the school.

“I will not play to folks’ emotions. You have your choice to have your own emotions about this issue. You do not have the choice to have your own facts,” Wallace said. “I trust science. I trust the principal at that school… and I trust her leadership.”

Via Prince George’s County sentinel 

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BOARD OF ED CONSIDERS POLICIES RESTRICTING PUBLIC COMMENT

school-board-pic4UPPER MARLBORO – The number of speakers per meeting and what they can speak on may be restricted if the Prince George’s County Board of Education passes proposed policies introduced during its most recent work session.

At a meeting held at 1 p.m. on April 6, the board of education formally introduced changes to a board policy regarding public comment at public meetings. The changes were only a first reader, meaning board discussion or comment on the issue was not necessary; however a few members found the changes egregious and said so during their introduction.

Board member Edward Burroughs, III said the revamped policy would restrict residents in a burdensome way.

“There are times the budget might not change, or the issue might not change, but the person might still want to communicate their concern or their approval to the board once they learn more information. We shouldn’t prohibit that,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs and fellow Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed raised several issues with the possible changes, specifically regarding intimidation of speakers and restricting public comment topics. This led the policy committee Chair Curtis Valentine and Boardmember K. Alexander Wallace to ask Board Chair Segun Eubanks for an emergency committee meeting on the issue. The date of that emergency meeting has yet to be set.

The policy changes in question are clearly noted in online versions of the policy, which is Policy No. 8345. The proposed changes state that the board’s assistants will only take public comment registrations from the “individual directly,” meaning no third parties or interpreters can call to register a resident to speak at a board of education meeting.

In addition, the possible policy reads that the board assistant can refuse to register a resident to speak if they do not give their name and state the purpose of their testimony.

“The maximum number of speakers shall not exceed 15 since the total time allotted is 45 minutes,” the changes read. “The board will reserve10 of the 15 (maximum) slots for individuals who wish to comment on issues that are on the agenda for that day’s board meeting. The other five slots will be reserved for speakers who wish to comment on other issues that are not specifically on the agenda.”

The anticipated changes also include additions to the policy in the form of restrictions on what residents can speak on. Personnel issues, matters on appeal, complaints “identifying individual students,” advertising or solicitation of services or products and any topic that will have a formal public hearing are all on the list of banned topics from board of education meeting public comments.

“In addition, no individual may address the same topic before the board within a 30 day period, unless there has been a change in status of that agenda or non-agenda item,” the changed policy would read. This means if there is no movement on an issue, residents cannot readdress the topic within 30 days of their original testimony.

Burroughs took issue with that.

“If I work this day and I can’t make it to the budget hearing and there’s a board meeting the next week and I can make it to that, I should be able to testify whenever I can,” he said.

However, the planned changes also state that there will be no limit on the number of speakers at a public hearing, though it also strikes school closings as a reason for holding a public hearing.

The changes leave the ruling of any comment out of order up to the chair of the board, Eubanks. In the past, the board has typically allowed more than 15 residents to speak at a meeting, despite previous restrictions. The proposed changes leave registration for comment soley to the board’s assistant.

“I think this board should strongly consider having language in that policy that address intimidation in some way, shape or form,” Ahmed said. “I think it could be and should be discussed further on.”

via Prince George’s County Sentinel

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Democrats in Disarray; Delegate Calls Miller and Zirkin “Democrats in Name Only”

IMG_9557.JPGDemocrats have fallen into complete disarray as they’re now turning fire on each other. More than a dozen House Democrats walked off the floor today and held a press conference outside of the State House to fight for the “Maryland Trust Act” also known as the Sanctuary State Bill.

Delegate Joseline Pena-Melynk (District 21, Prince George’s County) went after Senator Bobby Zirkin (District 11, Baltimore County) and Senate President Mike Miller (District 27, Southern Maryland). This is a clear case of mainstream Democrats looking for bipartisan solutions by listening to the people being taken hostage by an increasing number of extremists in their party.

She said, “Senator Bobby Zirkin is a DINO, a Democrat in Name Only. As 2018 approaches, people you are going to hear us tonight in the news. Who lives in his district? Shame him. We don’t need a Democrat like that. We need someone who is going to protect everyone. Who’s not going to compromise. How can you not be a true Democrat? You killed the bill. Shame on you and I hope your district takes you out.”

“Senator Miller, this is a priority for the Democrats…Did we need an issue like this, absolutely so the people know what we stand for. Act like a Democrat. We don’t need anyone who’s not a true Democrat. These people behind me have a spine and not everyone can say that.”

It’s unfortunate that extremist Democrats have held reasonable ones hostage because they listened to their districts. When Senate President Miller looks like the most reasonable person in the room, how extremist are the Maryland Democratic Party now?

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Maryland’s Senate president said a bill that added protections for people in the United States illegally won’t pass the Senate in its current form. 

You can watch the whole video here: https://www.facebook.com/bpsears/videos/10154449969122286/

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