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‘A ticking time bomb’: MS-13 threatens PGCPS school, warn teachers, parents, students


Prince George’s County police cruisers were parked outside William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale, Md., in May. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Michael E. Miller

The boys had once been friends before MS-13 began recruiting one of them. Now, as other students streamed to class one April morning at William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale, Md., the two teens squared off in the third-story bathroom — a fight captured by another student on his cellphone.

The MS-13 recruit threw a punch at his former friend’s head. His opponent ducked and tackled the 15-year-old, their sneakers squealing as they tumbled to the green tile floor.

“I like that,” someone shouted off-camera as the recruit tried to cover his head.

“That look like it hurt,” someone wrote under the video, which was uploaded to Instagram on April 19 and has been viewed more than 400 times.

Gang-related fights are now a near-daily occurrence at Wirt, where a small group of suspected MS-13 members at the overwhelmingly Hispanic school throw gang signs, sell drugs, draw gang graffiti and aggressively recruit students recently arrived from Central America, according to more than two dozen teachers, parents and students. Most of those interviewed asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs or being targeted by MS-13.

Although administrators deny Wirt has a gang problem, the situation inside the aging, overcrowded building has left some teachers so afraid that they refuse to be alone with their students. Many said they had repeatedly reported incidents involving suspected gang members to administrators, only to be ignored — claims supported by documents obtained by The Washington Post.

“Teachers feel threatened but aren’t backed up. Students feel threatened but aren’t protected,” one educator said. “The school is a ticking time bomb.”

The gang’s presence at Wirt comes at a time when the Trump administration has declared war on MS-13, and communities throughout the country are confronting a surge in MS-13-related violence.

Nearly a dozen parents told The Post they were worried about gang activity at the school, which is located 10 miles from the White House. Many said they were intent on transferring their kids. Several said they were scared their children would be killed.

One eighth-grader said she had been raped in the fall by a schoolmate in MS-13 — an attack that took place off school property and that she reported to police, but then recanted out of fear of the gang. Prince George’s investigators concluded the report was unfounded, but the girl said she now lives in fear the gang will stab her as she leaves school.

Rhonda Simley, the principal at Wirt, declined repeated requests for an interview.

“The principal is aware of concerns about gangs in the community, but has not experienced any problems in school,” Prince George’s County school system spokesman John White wrote in an email.

Prince George’s police, which has an officer stationed at the school, declined to discuss the allegations of gang activity.

“This is their house, so we’re going to defer to school leadership,” said police spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan. “If school security isn’t telling us about something, then we don’t know.”

As of May 1, police had been called to the school 74 times this school year, according to a police department tally requested by The Post.

Five students had been arrested for assault, drug possession and bringing a BB-gun into the building, White said in an interview.

Although teachers estimate there are only a dozen or so MS-13 members at the school, other students have banded together to resist them, leading to an arms race of sorts. Teachers said at least four knives and four BB-guns were found at Wirt this year, although White put the tally at two knives and one BB-gun.

“If someone doesn’t do something soon,” said the eighth-grade girl’s father, “there’s going to be a tragedy at that school.”

‘Completely out of control’

Evidence of MS-13’s sway at Wirt isn’t hard to find. Just follow the dirt path that winds from the edge of the school’s parking lot into the woods, across a stream and towards the rear of Parkdale High.


A tree defaced by an MS-13 tag in the woods between William Wirt Middle School and Parkdale High School, where there was a near-fatal gang-related stabbing in February. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Here, a few hundred feet from both schools, the trees are covered in MS-13 graffiti. Empty beer cans, candy wrappers and crumpled assignments surround a stump blackened by fire. One tree trunk appears as if it has been used for knife practice.

Ten MS-13 members attacked a gang rival in these woods in February, hitting him in the back of the head with a baseball bat before stabbing him three times in the stomach, according to police. Eight Parkdale students were arrested, although only one had attended Wirt. Two months earlier, a shooting involving another Parkdale student and MS-13 sent both schools into lockdown.

Dozens of schools from Northern Virginia to Long Island to Boston are dealing with a resurgence of MS-13, which has been linked to a string of grisly killings throughout the country. The gang’s growth has been fueled by a wave of 200,000 teens who traveled to the United States alone to escape poverty and gang violence in Central America. The vast majority enroll in school and stay out of trouble, but a small percentage get involved in MS-13 here.

Nearly 5,000 of those unaccompanied minors have arrived in Prince George’s since 2012, affecting schools in Langley Park, Hyattsville, Beltsville and Riverdale. Wirt was struggling before the influx of so many vulnerable kids helped swell the school’s population by 50 percent.

Around 1,200 students now pack a building designed for 750, many housed in a dozen dilapidated trailers. Nine out of 10 students who walk up Wirt’s rainbow-colored front steps receive free or reduced lunch and most are not reading or doing math at grade level.

They are being educated at one of the county’s oldest middle schools, slated to be replaced by 2020 after years of leaks and mold. Simley, a first-time principal who arrived at the school in 2016, is the school’s third leader since 2014.

Many teachers said they care deeply about the school’s unaccompanied minors, who are often traumatized by the journey to the United States, alienated from relatives here and isolated by their limited English. But they also said a small number of these children are more than troubled: They are MS-13.

One educator was stunned when, at the beginning of the school year, a handful of students continually shouted obscenities and threw objects around the classroom. The educator soon noticed the same students scrawling “MS-13” on papers, desks and their skin. They bullied Spanish-speaking classmates and sexually harassed the girls in class. Several students openly counted cash, allegedly money earned from selling marijuana in Wirt’s bathrooms, transactions that a student and several parents also described to The Post.

But administrators brushed aside complaints, the educator said, and the behavior spread to other students.

White denied administrators have ignored complaints of gang activity, adding that neither school security guards nor the police officer there had reported problems.

Documents obtained by The Post supported the educator’s account, however. And other employees offered similar stories. One recalled how MS-13 members bullied a girl so badly she dropped out of the school.

Fights have increased dramatically as MS-13 pressures recent arrivals to join the gang, teachers said. Several said suspected MS-13 members have burst into classrooms and attacked students.

“We now have two to three fights per day,” one instructor said. “At this point, it’s completely out of control.”

White played down those reports.

“Do fights occur at the school? Yes, but they occur at schools across the country,” he said. “Until we have evidence that [gang activity] was the cause of the fight, we don’t know. And so far, we haven’t found that evidence.”

White said there have been 32 suspensions this year for fighting.

In a recent emergency staff meeting, the principal attributed an uptick in violence to a “race war” between Hispanics — who make up roughly 80 percent of the school — and black students, according to people present.

White acknowledged Simley used those words but said she was urging her staff to intervene to prevent a “race war.”

Teachers said the fights haven’t been over race but resistance to MS-13.

One Hispanic eighth-grader told The Post that he and other U.S.-born students — black and Latino — banded together after an attack by knife-wielding MS-13 members last summer.

Many fights are arranged ahead of time via social media, filmed in the bathroom and then uploaded to private accounts on Instagram or Snapchat with names like “William Wirt Fights.” The videos are a recruitment tool for MS-13.

“They only post them when they win,” the eighth-grader said.

White said the school is aware of the videos but did not consider them gang-related.

Fighting tends to intensify in the spring, which teachers call “recruitment season.” They described seeing older kids — including former students now at Parkdale or other local high schools — loitering just beyond the boundaries of the school.

In the past, officers from Prince George’s police gang unit came to the school to teach employees to recognize indicators of MS-13 affiliation, like hand signs, light blue clothing, colored rosaries and Nike Cortez shoes.

But this year, the gang unit never came, leaving first-year teachers to figure it out on their own — in some cases, too late.

“The jumping, the recruitment, they are trying to do it here,” said Maureen Williams, an eighth-grade science instructor. She said she was familiar with MS-13 from years of teaching in Los Angeles, where the gang was founded in the 1980s. But at Wirt, she said administrators and police didn’t seem to be taking the issue seriously.

“They are not doing enough,” Williams said. “They need to get a grip on it before it proliferates.”

One of her colleagues described the administration’s stance on gangs as “don’t ask, don’t talk about it.”

White said the school takes gang activity seriously, but the situation has improved since last year to the point that the principal no longer felt the need for a gang unit meeting.

Some employees said they are worried the school’s inaction will result in bloodshed. One recalled watching school officials pull a large folding knife from a student’s pocket after receiving a tip he intended to stab someone. But that student was back in class two weeks later.

“These kids are getting a slap on the wrist,” that educator said. “The school has enabled the gang through its lack of enforcement.”

Teachers said they frequently aren’t informed when students were suspended — even for bringing weapons — and that serious incidents often aren’t entered into students’ records.

White said the school follows county guidelines on discipline and that teachers aren’t required to be notified why students are suspended. Students had been suspended 168 times this year, he said, but none had been expelled.

“Without metal detectors, which we do not have, we do our best . . . to identify any dangerous activity at schools,” he said.

Several educators said they have been threatened by students in MS-13. Two teachers said they are worried gang members have identified their cars and could follow them home. At least one female teacher was sexually harassed by a suspected gang member, her colleagues said.

“There is a genuine risk,” one said, “but the school is pretending the problem doesn’t exist.”


William Wirt Middle School seen from the woods where there was a near-fatal MS-13-related stabbing in February. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

‘Look what I have here’

It began with a photo.

The girl had recently arrived in the United States, one of about 1,000 unaccompanied minors placed with relatives in Prince George’s County last year. When her uncle gave her some Nike Cortez sneakers, the 14-year-old posted a picture of herself wearing them online.

Then the threats began.

“Which [gang] do you represent?” asked an older girl in Spanish on Facebook last fall. “If you wear Corteses you know what kind of trouble you’re in.”

The girl said she didn’t mean anything by it, but it was too late.

“I already have you being watched,” the older girl said. “You go to William [Wirt] and you’re in 8th [grade] and I also know where you live.”

Days later, the girl was sleeping when she began receiving messages from a boy, she recalled. It was well after midnight, but the seventh-grader told her to come outside, where he and some friends were waiting in a car. When she didn’t reply, he began angrily calling her. They were MS-13, she recalled him saying, and if she didn’t come out then they would come in and kill her and her family.

They took her to an apartment where the boy showed her an array of knives.

“He said he could cut my guts out,” she told The Post.

The girl described the attack to Prince George’s and Bladensburg police that day. She said her assailant chose her from several girls at the apartment.

“He said, ‘I’m taking this one,’ ” she told a female officer, according to a recording her father made of the interview. “He began to touch me. The other ones left, and he began to take off my clothes.”

When she told him to stop, he took out a knife and said, “Look what I have here,” she said.

“Then he began to rape me,” the girl told police. “I began to cry because it hurt.”

Later, when a male officer questioned her, however, the girl began to worry the gang would come after her so she recanted, she told The Post.

The girl spent the next couple of weeks at home, angry and depressed, she said. When she returned to school, she and her father met with school officials. She said she told them she had been raped by a student in MS-13, and identified him, but the school took no action.

White said the school was aware the girl had disappeared from home but not of her rape allegation. It was up to police to investigate incidents outside school, he said, although the school offers students counseling and support.

Other families told similar stories about MS-13 violence and intimidation. One Honduran mother said her 15-year-old son came home with a broken hand at the beginning of the school year. When he was injured a second time this year, she pressed him for details. The eighth-grader eventually told her that MS-13 members had made him fight another student in the bathroom.

Then he suffered a concussion after another fight this spring, and she took him to the hospital for the third time. A psychologist who spoke to her son came away so worried, he gave her a note to take to school.

“He said, ‘If you don’t protect your son, the next time you bring him to the hospital he’s going to be dead,’ ” the mother recalled.

The school assigned one of its three security guards to watch over her son when he changed classes or ate lunch, she said. But as soon as the guard was absent, her son was jumped by MS-13, she said.

She has seen videos of him fighting inside the school and fears that he is now being pressured to join the gang. When she peeked at his phone, she found a message from an MS-13 member saying the devil was angry with him and to watch his back. “I don’t know how to make him understand that I’m worried about him, worried for his life,” she said.

Another mother said she had brought her son to America as a baby to escape gang violence in El Salvador. So she was shocked when her boy, now 13, told her MS-13 was trying to recruit him at Wirt.

“They told me if I didn’t fight, they’d stick the knife in me,” she recalled him saying. She, too, saw videos of her son fighting in the school’s bathrooms. And she, too, went to the school to demand it do something.

“Many kids have disappeared because of this gang,” she said she told a school counselor. The school assigned a security guard to watch over him, too, she said.

Some parents said they had tried taking away phones or deactivating social media accounts to prevent their kids from being recruited. When one mother let her son use her phone, she received a message from an MS-13 member saying the gang was going to cut out his tongue.


Bullets allegedly left in the hoodie of an eighth-grade student at William Wirt Middle School by an MS-13 member. (Obtained by The Washington Post)

The girl who alleges she was raped said the same boy also threatened her with a gun he brought to school, and another MS-13 member put two bullets in her hoodie as a warning.

The girl said she reported the gun incident to security but not finding the bullets. White said the gun incident was not reported.

The girl is now being recruited by members of MS-13’s rival, 18th Street gang, her father said. He panicked when she disappeared from school in early May. Police found her at an 18th Street hangout.

Her father has started driving her to and from school each day for protection. Next year, he said, she will be attending a high school where the gang has less of a presence. But first, she has to finish eighth grade.

As she walked down Wirt’s rainbow steps one May afternoon, she passed the MS-13 member who had left the bullets in her hoodie.

“I’m going to give you such a beating, girl,” he muttered in Spanish, she said, as a Prince George’s police officer sat in his squad car a few feet away.

Before she could react, her father appeared at the end of the stairs. He put his arm around her and guided her to the car. She slid into the back seat and slammed the door, staring out the window as Wirt slipped out of sight.

Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

via Washington Post

Read more:

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ rapped a defiant MS-13 gang member. Days later, he was dead.

She thought she’d saved her daughter from MS-13 by smuggling her to the U.S. She was wrong.

‘You feel the devil is helping you’: MS-13’s satanic history

Trump’s MS-13 crackdown: Going after suspected gang members for immigration violations

‘Vying for control’: How MS-13 uses violence and extortion in America’s jails

Scandals Affirm Maryland As an emerging Union Corruption Capital.


Police: 3 PGCPS High School Students Struck by Car

img_8429Three high school students have been take to a hospital after police say they were struck by a car in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

The crash happened Wednesday afternoon in the 1500 block of Iverson St., Prince George’s County police said.

All three students, who go to Potomac High School, appear to have non-life threatening injuries, police said.

The driver stayed on the scene of the crash and was also taken to the hospital with a non-life threatening injury.

Source: Police: 3 Maryland High School Students Struck by Car | NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Police-3-Maryland-High-School-Students-Struck-by-Car–412463743.html#ixzz4XY0P2gSh

PGCPS makes international news with horrible school lunches.


FORT WASHINGTON, Md. – Students attending Prince George’s County Public Schools are complaining about some disgusting discoveries in the school cafeteria. Complaints about moldy and undercooked food were issued to the school district through Twitter directly from these students who say they have not heard a response from the school system.

But the outrage on social media was more than evident from these students who say someone will end up getting sick from these school lunches.

“Criminals are getting better food than we are,” said Tamera Perry, a senior student at Friendly High School in Fort Washington.

Photo Prince George’s County students claim school lunches are undercooked, contain mold
It’s not prison food, but these students allege their school lunches are not up to par.

“You’re giving us something that’s not healthy, that can possibly cause us to die and it’s just unacceptable,” the high school student told us.

A school lunch menu for Friday, Sept. 11 at Friendly included “Rojo Fiesta Pizza.” But Perry said, “What was in it was nowhere near salsa. That wasn’t pizza at all. It was just disgusting.”

Some students may not share the taste in ingredients or choices made by Prince George’s County Public Schools. But they said burger buns with mold and undercooked meat are nothing new to their lunch trays.

“I’ve gotten lunch where my mandarin orange has mold on it,” said Perry. “There have been incidents where the lunch lady had to collect our fruit cup because they were expired. Our milk has been expired. Open up apple juice cartons and it’s been green. It’s just disgusting.”

One picture showed hollowed out chicken nuggets. For these students, their lunches come at a price too high for many.

“They raised our lunches to $3,” said Perry. “We’re paying $3 for something that’s not edible, not organic and it’s not healthy … For some of the population of students, that’s their only lunch, so you’re putting them in a sticky situation where they can either continue to starve or they eat it because that’s the only thing they have to eat.”

FOX 5 reached out to Prince George’s County Public Schools on Monday. The school district was observing a holiday and there were no classes and their offices were closed.

But a school spokesperson wrote in a statement, “PGCPS cannot confirm the origin of the photo circulating on social media, but encourages anyone who has concerns regarding meals to call 301-952-6580. Providing healthy and nutritious meals for all students is a contributing factor to high academic achievement and the district prides itself on doing so for over 129,000 students each day.”

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Real Solutions to the Scandal of Struggling Schools in NYC.

farina_tech_summit_nycschoolsChancellor Fariña (photo: @NYCSchools)

There’s been lots of news and commentary lately about fraudulent credit recovery schemes and grade fixing practices at city schools. The editors of the New York Post predictably want to pin the blame on Mayor de Blasio – with op-eds written by critics such as Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, who claim that these scandals are a good reason to question the extension of mayoral control of city schools.

Truth is that these schemes spread like a virus first under Mayor Bloomberg – the result of pressure on schools to improve quickly or be closed, combined with a troubling lack of oversight to see that improvements were based on real learning and not gimmicks. Credit recovery was widespread, along with instructions from principals that teachers should pass 60 percent of their students “or else.”

Despite the fact that this troubling phenomenon occurred during the Bloomberg administration, Senator Flanagan was then one of the biggest boosters of mayoral control, and in 2009, helped renew it for another six years. This was probably not unrelated to the fact that Bloomberg was also the biggest financial contributor to the Republican Senate majority.

Now that de Blasio is mayor, the hedge-funders and the charter lobby have replaced Bloomberg as the biggest contributors to the state GOP, and keeping its members in charge of the Senate. And as de Blasio has consistently opposed the efforts of these same groups to expand charters and privatize our public schools, Flanagan and the editors of the Post are predictably eager to use the scandal to threaten him with the loss of mayoral control.

To her credit, reporter Sue Edelman, who has broken many of these stories, made it clear in the Post that these fraudulent practices are not new:

Credit- and grade-boosting schemes went into full swing under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who boasted of raising the citywide graduation rate to 64.2 percent in 2014. Last year, the rate rose to 68.4 percent. But both years only 38 percent of the grads had test scores high enough to enroll in CUNY without remedial help.

But even if this credit recovery and other artificial methods of juking the stats took hold during the Bloomberg years, the de Blasio administration cannot be let off the hook for allowing them to continue.

Edelman’s piece recounts the scandalous allegations at Dewey, Flushing, Richmond Hill, Bryant and Automotive High Schools, which until recently were met with little more than a shrug from both Chancellor Farina and the mayor. Teachers at Dewey in particular had been reaching out desperately for more than a year, before their copious evidence of fraud was finally taken seriously, and principal Kathleen Elvin dismissed in July.

I began to get anguished messages from teachers at Dewey in September 2012. Starting in February 2014, teachers reported the credit recovery to Special Investigator Condon and others. Soon followed numerous exposés in the Post, and by Marcia Kramer of CBS News and Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News, who catalogued in great detail the outrageous techniques of the principal to boost the graduation rate.

Yet in March, de Blasio said, referring to the Dewey scandal and the much-derided capability of the internal DOE investigative unit, “I don’t assume because some teachers talked to you that that’s the whole truth. I believe very, very strongly in the quality of our investigations unit. I have absolute faith in the integrity of that unit.”

As recently as this past June, Farina minimized the clear evidence of the principal’s misdeeds.

In this way, she and the mayor have played into the hands of their opponents. Even now, by appointing a group made up almost exclusively of DOE officials to look into the scandals instead of an independent panel of investigators, the administration seems tone deaf about how its efforts to stem the tide of corruption will be portrayed.

The administration has been less than transparent on a whole host of education issues – as the NYC Kids PAC report card pointed out.

There are 94 schools on the city’s “Renewal” list. These schools, many of which have been struggling for years, are under tremendous pressure to increase test scores and raise graduation rates or be closed or taken over by the state. Yet so far, the remedies introduced by the administration focus on “wrap-around” services – which do not directly address these students’ academic needs – as well as replacing teachers, appointing new administrators, and encouraging more professional development.

These schools do not need a whole new raft of inexperienced teachers. In March, de Blasio visited Automotive High School and said, “It is impossible to sit in one of those rooms and not immediately identify the level of commitment so many of our teachers have – how much they believe in the work they’re doing…These teachers are committed, energetic, creative, and they’re committed to the future of this school.” And yet last month, it was reported that 63 percent of the teachers at those schools had left or been forcibly removed.

Nor do these school need yet more high-priced administrators, though the Renewal division at Tweed is expanding fast and will have 45 administrative positions, many of them at top salaries, filled by the end of the summer. It is also unlikely that more teacher training and professional development will turn around these schools. An article in Politico NY relates how Farina recently met with Karen Ames, the new Superintendent of District 8 in the South Bronx, who briefed her on efforts to improve the Renewal schools in her district:

Ames, [is] the new superintendent of District 8, which encompasses a swath of largely low-income neighborhoods in the Bronx…[Ames is] a former network leader in prestigious District 2, the same Upper East Side region where Fariña spent years as principal of P.S. 6, came prepared for her meeting with the chancellor, whom she hasknown for years….Ames recently led several principals of Renewal Schools in her district on a tour of District 2’s Salk School of Science, one of the city’s best middle schools. Fariña praised the idea of the Salk tour…

It is astonishing that principals of District 8 renewal schools are being asked to visit Salk Middle School on the East Side of Manhattan for tips on how to improve their schools, given their vastly different student populations. Salk is a selective middle school that takes only the highest scoring students, and serves a primarily middle class and even comparatively wealthy school population. Only 11 percent of Salk students qualify for free lunch, according to Inside Schools; and it is home to no English language learners. Its students are 64 percent white; 21 percent Asian, 4 percent black, and 9 percent Hispanic.

Contrast those statistics with the four Renewal middle schools in District 8:

  • The Bronx Mathematics Preparatory School – 95 percent free lunch; 26 percent special education; 10 percent ELL; 95 percent black and Hispanic.
  • Hunts Point School – 91 percent free lunch; 28 percent special education; 25 percent ELL; 99 percent black and Hispanic.
  • Urban Assembly Academy of Civic Engagement: 79 percent free lunch; 30 percent special education; 13 percent ELL; 96 percent black and Hispanic.
  • M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar: 83 percent free lunch; 27 percent special education; 24 percent ELL, 97 percent black and Hispanic.

According to the Independent Budget Office, all the Renewal schools have much larger numbers of English language learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and students in temporary housing, as well as more black and Hispanic students than the system as a whole.

What the students in these schools desperately need is intensive tutoring and small classes to make significant improvements, not a new cadre of inexperienced teachers or administrators breathing down their necks. And yet more than 60 percent of the Renewal schools still have many classes with 30 students or more, according to DOE data.

When Rudy Crew was chancellor, he drew the lowest-performing schools in the city into a new program called the Chancellor’s District, and capped class size in all of their classes at no more than twenty students. This worked effectively to raise achievement.  Yet not a single elementary or K–8 school on the Renewal list had capped class sizes at 20 students in grades K-3 last year, as most experts would recommend. These were also the goals that the state demanded the DOE achieve citywide in its class size reduction plan in these grades, as part of the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 2007.

Only eight middle or 6-12 schools out of 43 Renewal schools last year had capped class sizes at 23 students in grades 6-8, and only one renewal high school out of 31 had capped class sizes at 25 – the goals for those grades in the city’s original class size reduction plan. More than half of the high schools had at least some classes with 35 to 44 students – which mean they violated union contract levels.

The real scandal is that hundreds of thousands of New York City high school students, including those at schools that have allegedly engaged in credit manipulation, like Richmond Hill, Flushing, and Automotive, continue to struggle in large classes of 34 or more.

Rudy Crew had a vision of what high-poverty students need to succeed; but right now, there is no comparable vision on the part of this administration. If we are talking about accountability for schools and teachers, we must also address the accountability of those in charge of running our schools, and here the mayor and the chancellor have unaccountably failed.

Leonie Haimsonis the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. Follow her on twitter @leoniehaimson

Manhattan_and_Brooklyn_bridges_on_the_East_River,_New_York_City,_1981New York CityUSA-Flag-Wallpaper-01


PGCPS Board of Education swears in new student member

BOE_Ava_02Ava Perry is not an ordinary high school senior. This year, along with classes, senior projects and college applications, Perry is also taking on the task of serving the Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education as its student member.

Perry is an incoming senior at Oxon Hill High School and will turn 17 next month. She said she wanted to serve on the board to be the “eyes and ears” of the students. She has previously held positions on the Prince George’s Regional Association of Student Government, and also as student body president at her high school.

“I’ve been in Prince George’s County since kindergarten and I’ve grown up through the school system,” she said. “I’ve seen how it inspires kids and the improvements that they’ve made. But what made me want to do this was just really my passion for improving policy. It’s something that is not the best within our school system, but we’ve made great strides.”

Perry was elected to serve earlier this year by her peers. She was sworn in on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at a ceremony in the Sasscer Administration Building. The process of nomination involves an application, multiple letters of recommendation, an interview, a selection of the final two candidates, and a vote after a speech in front of hundreds of students.

“It was exciting,” Perry said. “I was ecstatic when I was elected, because you never know. Where do you go from here? All the work that you put in and all the people that you meet are just so inspiring.”

She said as the elected student member she wants to continue to hear students’ stories and be a voice for their triumphs and struggles. She also wants to make sure students have a greater support system, both inside and outside of their schools.

“What I really want to push for is student support in the form of tutoring,” Perry said.

Perry visited 13 schools while campaigning for the board and found that tutoring was the main concern.

“This showed up at every single high school and middle school I visited,” she said. “And they said they need support. Common core is really taking a toll on them and they need support.

Jeffery Taylor II, the previous student board member, said Perry’s dedication to the students is exactly why she will make a great member.

“I truly enjoy her character, her motivation for service, her communication skills, and her love for advocacy,” he said. “I truly think she is going to make an amazing student member of the board of education.”

Taylor said a student’s service on the board is important because it gives a voice to the other 125,000-plus students in the school system. He said the position is a large task to take on, but it is unlike any other.

“At first it can be a little intimidating because you are 16, 17, maybe 18 and are sitting next to adults, but at the end of the day the members of the board of education are truly open and inviting. They know how to truly help you acclimate and truly serve.”

Segun Eubanks, the chair of the board, is excited to work with Perry. He is impressed with her ambition and her passionate advocacy for students needs. He said having a student voice on the board is “absolutely essential.”

“We represent students. Everything we do is for students,” Eubanks said. “To do this work, and not have the voice of the students in the room, would be disingenuous to what we say our mission is all about. So to have students who are committed, who are ambitious, and are intelligent. Who understand what it is the students need and want and what their challenges are. That keeps us honest.”

As the school year approaches Perry said she is ready to tackle her last year in the school system and ready to serve the students.

“This school system means so much to me,” Perry said. “It has pushed me to where I am. I am proud to represent Prince George’s County. I am proud to represent them on the board of education.”

via Prince George’s county sentinel


L.A. Unified’s ‘teacher jail’ policy ends up punishing students

Teacher-Jail-700In 2012, the entire 110-member staff of Miramonte Elementary School was pulled off campus after accusations of molestation were leveled at two teachers. Mark Berndt pleaded no contest to charges involving feeding semen-laced cookies to blindfolded students; charges against the second teacher were ultimately dropped (and he has since left the district). Everyone else spent the rest of the school year cooling their heels in a new, not-yet-opened school.

John Deasy, who was then superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, justified the move by saying he was concerned there might be a culture of sexual abuse at Miramonte. All staff files were scrutinized. But in only a couple of cases were there previous allegations of abuse; a few other teachers were found to have broken minor, unrelated rules, and most of the staff returned to Miramonte the following year.

At first this looked like nothing more than an honest effort to protect children, after Miramonte administrators had rebuffed earlier complaints. But it was the start of a troubling series of teacher suspensions at other schools that disrupted students’ education and that notably did not involve their safety. These suspensions with pay during often lengthy investigations are known as “teacher jail”; teachers largely spend the time at home while substitutes who often are less qualified take their places.

With classes beginning Aug. 18, the many admirers of Hobart Elementary teacher Rafe Esquith are wondering whether he’ll be there to greet a new batch of fifth-graders after four months in teacher jail. His case, and those of others before him, raise troubling questions about whether the teacher investigation system is causing too much disruption at L.A. Unified schools.

In 2014, two beloved teachers at separate high schools were reassigned to teacher jail for eight months over allegations of possible financial improprieties involving field trips. Both were finally returned to the classroom. That was also the year that a popular science teacher, who taught at the arts high school named for Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, was yanked from the classroom because two students had designed projects for a science fair that appeared to a couple of people as too similar to weaponry. (One project, a standard at science fairs across the country, was a milder version of a catapult-like invention that President Obama had tried out and praised at a White House science fair.) While he was in limbo, the teacher missed out on one of the most important months of the school year — the period of intense preparation for the Advanced Placement tests — replaced by a substitute who didn’t know the material.

But none of those teachers had the national reputation of Esquith. He has written three books on inspired pedagogy and has improved students’ English skills by getting them excited about staging Shakespeare plays. He pays for their productions with a nonprofit that also funds student field trips to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which were canceled this year because of the investigation.

The trouble started, according to accounts given to Times reporters, with a mild joke about nudity based on a passage in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”; Esquith was then removed from the classroom in April when the investigation expanded into whether there were financial irregularities with his nonprofit. Yet later, according to reports, the investigation came to focus on allegations that Esquith had molested a boy some 40 years earlier, when he was a teenage camp counselor — an allegation that the district had been aware of for years.

Of course the district has a right, and an obligation, to investigate molestation accusations and remove possibly abusive teachers when allegations arise. But as currently practiced, the procedure appears to turn too many easily resolved cases into administrative quagmires. Why not just tell the science teacher that science fair projects shouldn’t look like weapons? End of story.

By all means, investigate when necessary. But L.A. Unified should not overreact by removing teachers over allegations that have nothing to do with student safety. The district must put student welfare first, and their welfare is not served by disrupting the school year. It’s time for an independent examination by the district’s Office of the Inspector General.

via Los Angeles Times



Board of Education unanimously supports Oxon Hill students after art removal.

oxenhill__4501434658511 (1)UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to support Oxon Hill High School students’ free speech rights after the school took down an art display (shown above).

The vote came after uproar earlier in the week over the removal of an art display in the rotunda of the high school. The display, created by honors art students, featured a black man with his hands up and a gunshot wound on his abdomen. The man stood next to an officer reading the obituaries of victims of police brutality. The school displayed the artwork for two weeks before the school’s administration took it down on June 9, 2015.

Sherrie Johnson, a spokesperson for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGPCPS), told the Sentinel on Wednesday that the display had already been planned to come down, but Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell said at Thursday’s Board meeting he had the display taken down earlier than scheduled.

“We removed the installation a few days early in an attempt to shield our students and the Oxon Hill High School administration and staff from the reaction by those who did not fully understand the intention of the art piece,” Maxwell said.

But Maxwell also said the school system supports students’ voices.

“Simply put, Prince George’s County Public Schools does not support censorship in education, rather we want to create a place for students to express themselves in an academic environment,” he said, quoting his own email. “Please know that we encourage this type of evaluation, analysis and expression. We believe that educational discussions about social justice and current events in our world are relevant and beneficial to our students.”

Students attended the Board meeting holding signs to voice their concern, believing the school system violated their First Amendment rights. During the public comment period of the meeting, the students asked the Board for a statement of solidarity. They also initiated a Twitter campaign and an online petition which garnered more than a thousand signatures. Finally, the students also put up a new art display in the high school featuring coffins lamenting the death of their rights.

Maria Mendoza, a student, spoke of the problems she saw with the removal of the original display.

“Many of the complainers may have been offended because of a completely different perspective,” Mendoza said. “They don’t see police brutality as an underlying societal ill. Rather, they see the victims as thugs or criminals who deserve it. Many of the complainers do not have children of color or children who have friends of color and however cannot comprehend why police brutality is an issue, because for them it isn’t.”

Mendoza also supported the teachers of Oxon Hill and applauded them for opening their students’ minds. She said the high school teachers encouraged students to express themselves.

“Our educators didn’t teach us what our art expressed. America did, society did, and this suppression of our freedom of expression is continuing to teach us. Art is supposed to provoke, but if this art offends them, perhaps they should ask themselves why they are not offended by the reality behind the art instead,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza received a standing ovation from members of the Board. At the end of public comment, members also expressed their pride in the students and their presentations, praising their signs, eloquent speeches, and organization. Several students have now bought T-shirts and resorted to wearing the same art to express their unanimity.

Board member Edward Burroughs III moved to give the Oxon Hill students the statement of solidarity.

“I would like to make a motion that we give them that statement of solidarity in support of their artwork, in support of their rights, in support of what we have asked them to do, and that is to be critical thinkers and to make a difference in their community. And students I believe that you have shown that,” said Burroughs.

Despite the statement of solidarity the future of the art display remains unclear.



Teacher assails practice of giving passing grades to failing students


Caleb Stewart Rossiter, a college professor and policy analyst, decided to try teaching math in the D.C. schools. He was given a pre-calculus class with 38 seniors at H.D. Woodson High School. When he discovered that half of them could not handle even second-grade problems, he sought out the teachers who had awarded the passing grades of D in Algebra II, a course that they needed to take his high-level class.

There are many bewildering stories like this in Rossiter’s new book, “Ain’t Nobody Be Learnin’ Nothin’: The Fraud and the Fix for High-Poverty Schools,” the best account of public education in the nation’s capital I have ever read. It will take me three columns to do justice to his revelations about what is being done to the District’s most distracted and least productive students.

Teachers will tell you it is a no-no to ask other teachers why they committed grading malpractice. Rossiter didn’t care. Three of the five teachers he sought had left the high-turnover D.C. system, but the two he found were so candid I still can’t get their words out of my mind.

The first, an African immigrant who had taught special education, was stunned to see one student’s name on Rossiter’s list. “Huh!” Rossiter quoted the teacher as saying. “That boy can’t add two plus two and doesn’t care! What’s he doing in pre-calculus? Yes of course I passed him — that’s a gentleman’s D. Everybody knows that a D for a special education student means nothing but that he came in once in a while.”

The second teacher had transferred from a private school in a Southern city so his wife could get her dream job in the Washington area. He explained that he gave a D to one disruptive girl on Rossiter’s list because, Rossiter said, “he didn’t want to have her in class ever again.” Her not-quite-failing grade was enough to get the all-important check mark for one of the four years of math required for graduation.

I share Rossiter’s view that such rule-bending is common in many D.C. schools overloaded with struggling students. The trend has been aggravated by computerized credit-recovery courses that take a few weeks and allow students to escape high school lives they loathe. Former D.C. history teacherErich Martel has done much research on this. I have pointed out that the educators enabling such grade inflation might have the students’ best interests at heart. The students won’t stay in school, so giving them a diploma, no matter how fraudulent, might provide them with a chance to get some kind of job and, eventually, as they mature, sort themselves out.

It is very hard to maintain that Pollyanna-ish take on grade inflation after reading Rossiter’s book. He wrongly overlooks or discounts evidence of improvements in teaching and learning in many schools here and elsewhere, but his main point is unassailable. Lying to so many students, their families and other teachers is wrong and yet is rarely discussed in professional circles.

High school graduation rates, as reported by school districts with no independent checks, have been climbing. Public school officials said the D.C. graduation rate increased five percentage points in the past four years. The U.S. rate rose from 74 percent in 2007 to 81 percent in 2012, according to theEducation Week Research Center.

I know of no research on how much of that increase can be attributed to fantasyland report cards. Rossiter says the strongest blow against fraud would be to reverse the national trend toward insisting that every high school student get a college-preparatory education before graduation.

I thought that trend was good. Most of those courses also help in the workplace. But Rossiter’s book is forcing me to reconsider.

via Washington Post 



Two students injured in stabbing at Frederick Douglass High in Md.


Scene at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, Md. (Photo: Brad Bell)

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (WJLA) – Two students were injured in a stabbing at a high school in Prince George’s County early Tuesday morning.

The incident occurred around 7:40 a.m. inside Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro.

Two students were engaged in a physical altercation when one of the students pulled out a knife and stabbed the other student, according to police.

One student sustained serious injuries while the student accused of pulling the knife only sustained minor injuries. Both students were transported to a local hospital for treatment.

The student who pulled the knife is currently in police custody and charges are pending.

Officials said they had no information as to what sparked the fight, and the incident is under investigation.

In a Twitter message, the police said the incident “stemmed from dispute.”

Read more: http://www.wjla.com/articles/2015/06/2-students-injured-in-stabbing-at-frederick-douglass-high-in-md–114442.html#ixzz3bujHrKmv


Brawl breaks out among students at Fairmont Heights High School



A massive fight broke out at Fairmont Heights High School in Capitol Heights Thursday afternoon and students we spoke with say this isn’t the first time the violence has gotten out of control.

Neighbors and students for the most part did not want to speak on camera, but they did say there is a “fight culture” at the high school.

One neighbor even told us on numerous occasions she has seen students running away from the fights virtually unclothed.

On Thursday, it seems another fight took place as classes were dismissed.

For mere seconds, two Fairmont Heights students threw punches at each other before more girls joined in on the fight.

There are numerous videos of the very same fight that took place roughly past 3 p.m. Thursday on school property along the bus line, according to students.

The fight garnered the attention of dozens of students who stood by as several high school girls tugged at their hair and continued to throw jabs at each other.

Students tell FOX 5 the brawl went on for nearly ten minutes before any adult on campus ever stepped in.

Steve Missouri grew up directly across the street and also graduated from the school in Capitol Heights.

He is surprised at how out hand these fights have gotten. Even with security cameras hovering over the campus, it seems like the response by security was severely delayed.

“I don’t understand it because from my understanding of the school system, they are supposed to have police officers and security personnel in the school for the safety and wellbeing of staff, students and visitors,” said Missouri.

Prince George’s County Public Schools issued a statement saying: “Prince George’s County Public Schools confirms an altercation between students at Fairmont Heights High School. PGCPS does not condone this type of behavior. Security Officers are investigating this incident. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken for students involved in the altercation. The safety of students is a top priority at PGCPS.”

Police tell us they are not aware of any arrest being made from the incident.

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