PGCPS Facing Lawsuits

Nancy Vu, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In light of recent child abuse cases, policies implemented to keep students safe have resulted in unforeseen consequences: this school year, a total of 636 misconduct cases have resulted in a staff member being placed on administrative leave, according to a Fox 5 News open records request.

Many of these cases are eventually dismissed, and teachers are returned to classrooms. The number of dismissed cases is not available to the public.

Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell, the CEO of PGCPS, implemented new training for employees, requiring all staff to report suspicions of misconduct, abuse, or wrongdoing. These policies have the potential to cost the county even more money, along with ongoing lawsuits about the abuse cases. When a staff member is put on administrative leave, the staff member is paid until the allegations are either confirmed or cleared, then subsequent actions are taken to determine whether or not the person will be dismissed from working at PGCPS. If that staff member is a teacher, a substitute teaches in the classroom until a suitable replacement is found for that teacher. This process can take months, resulting in classrooms without adequate teachers for up to an entire school year.

“We can’t continue to have teachers out of the class for long periods of time,” says student Board Member Juwan Blocker. “It negatively impacts our students and we need to work to make the investigation process more robust to ensure that teachers who are found of no wrong doing are back in the classroom teaching.”  

These new policies have caused teachers to become apprehensive about having any physical contact with students. This can ultimately affect the way an educator teach, and how they handle situations regarding a student’s safety, such as altercations between students, and the potential that students could abuse the power to label someone’s behavior as inappropriate.

Some students said they have concern over these policies instituted by the county. “If information was given to us prior to the decision being made by PG, the new policies made by these incidents would not have impacted us as greatly as it did,” said senior Chidinma Ezinne.

In reference to the policies, senior Sarah Leonard said “I think they are designed to make us feel safer and they make sense, but they have made it significantly harder to have volunteers for Science Fair and field trips.”

Over the past couple of years, the Prince George’s County Public School system has been faced with various lawsuits and scandals, one of which has cost the county a $6.4 million grant funding the early-childhood development Head Start Program. Others have also created financial burdens for the county.

In 2016, the family of an eight-year-old girl who was sexually abused by Jason Jamar Howard, a 33-year-old PGCPS teaching assistant convicted of the abuse in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years, filed a lawsuit against PGCPS alleging that the school system failed to supervise the assistant and to conduct a background check on Howard – against whom charges of sexual assault and offense were filed and dropped 2002, according to WTOP news and Maryland court records.

The lawsuit was filed around the same time as a civil lawsuit against a Judge Sylvania Woods teacher who failed to report allegations of sexual abuse after a child told them what was happening. Deonte Carraway, a school aide, produced more than 60 counts of sexually inappropriate videos, and has been indicted on 13 counts of sexually exploiting at least 17 children who have been identified as victims.

According to WUSA 9 news, the lawsuit states that one of Carraway’s victims had walked up to his teacher and told her about the incident, but the teacher accused the student of lying and ordered him to sit down. There have also been allegations of the principal of the school, Michelle Williams, not reporting the incident because she said there was not enough evidence to file a claim. According to the Department of Human Resources, an educator is a mandated reporter, and reporting alleged incidents does not require proof that child abuse or neglect has occurred. Based on these allegations, Williams was placed on administrative leave indefinitely.

Some community members and board members have expressed concerns regarding the scandals and their financial impact.

Student Board Member Juwan Blocker has said he has problems with the transparency of the Board of Education. “I would simply say that Dr. Maxwell’s administration needs to be more transparent to the students, parents, and teachers of the the PGCPS community,” he said.

In addition to these lawsuits, a $6.4 million grant funding the early childhood education program, Head Start, was revoked in August of 2016 due to various acts of employee misconduct. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the agency responsible for federal programs such as Head Start, reviewed these incidents and withdrew the grant, reasoning that the school system had failed to address the insufficiencies identified. In light of these events, three Prince George’s county employees have been fired and three others are recommended for dismissal on the grounds of corporal punishment and humiliation of children.

In September 2016, Kevin M. Maxwell, CEO of PGCPS, announced that Head Start services would be operated through a new program called Early Start, which would include the same instructors and program sites, but would include “increased monitoring and enhanced staff screening to address safety and disciplinary concerns,” according to a press release from PGCPS. ACF will continue to fund a portion of Early Start, and the remaining $5.5 million of the costs are covered through a combination of hiring freezes on central office vacancies and cutting 19 central office-based Head Start positions.

Students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, including Ezinne expressed concern over the loss of the grant. “Having less money available for programs and educational opportunities for students is never ideal, and I believe there would no ambiguity when it comes to that aspect,” she says.