Prince George's County

Baker: Head Start Abuse Allegations ‘Embarrassing’

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III called recent abuse allegations plaguing the county’s Head Start program “embarrassing,” but reiterated his confidence in the program.

“We want parents to be assured as they are dropping their kids off to a Head Start program their children are going to be safe,” Baker told reporters outside Glassmanor Elementary in Oxon Hill before visiting its Head Start classroom Monday, Aug. 29, the first day of school for the program, which caters to about 930 children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families to help prepare them for school. “The program is there and you are not going to lose resources and the men and women in our school system are doing a great job.”

The school voted Aug. 25 to relinquish control of the program after the Department of Health and Human Services informed school board Chairman Segun Eubanks earlier this month that the school system would lose more than $6 million in federal funding for the program.

Federal authorities decided to strip funds in the wake of allegations that a child was forced to mop his own urine, another walked home alone during school hours and two others were made to stand and hold heavy objects above their heads for an extended period.

Community Development Institute, a Denver-based organization which provide services nationwide for the federal Office of Head Start, will become the county’s temporary provider this school year. The school system will need to seek other funding resources to continue the program in 2017-18.

“We want to make sure after this temporary period, the Head Start program continues in Prince George’s County and that it is enhanced,” Baker said. “We need make the corrections so that this never happens again. We are going to get to the bottom of this.”

Schools system CEO Kevin Maxwell said those accused of harming the children will be held accountable. He also gave a warning to current staff and teachers to report any incidents they see.

“We still have some people to whom we have not gotten through about their responsibilities for the conduct in a system that wants to strive for excellence,” he said. “Accountability will be there for them if they don’t do what it is they should be doing.”

According to a report from the Administration for Children and Families, a division of HHS, the school system received a letter in February about the potential of the program losing federal funds if its deficiencies weren’t corrected.

After monitoring the county’s Head Start program from April 12-14 and June 10-17, the administration claims the school system did not follow the standards of conduct for staff to “use only positive methods of child guidance and not engage in corporal punishment.”

The report states on June 15, a teacher and assistant teacher at James Ryder Randall Elementary School Head Start Center in Clinton forced two children to stand and hold heavy objects above their heads. About six months earlier on Dec. 17, a teacher at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center in Capitol Heights humiliated a 3-year-old boy after he urinated on himself by forcing him to mop it up, then taking a photo of him mopping and sending it to his mother.

ACF officials interviewed the county’s Head Start program supervisor Feb. 17 and said the teacher in Capitol Heights no longer worked in a Head Start classroom.

The report states that the county trained staff on confidentiality and revised its cellphone policy to prohibit use of electronic devices while working with children in the classroom without special permission from the administration.

The accusations caused five school board members to ask for Eubanks and Vice Chairwoman Carolyn Boston to resign for not immediately informing the board of the situation.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) called for an independent investigation, urging parents with children who’ve experienced similar incidents to speak out.

County Councilwoman Mel Franklin (D-District 9) of Upper Marlboro released a statement Monday requesting a similar review of the Head Start program.

“We must fully understand why ‘the ball was dropped’ in this situation, hold the responsible individuals accountable, and most importantly, ensure that similar breakdowns do not occur again,” said Franklin, whose two children attend Mattaponi Elementary in Upper Marlboro. “We must take all of the necessary steps of accountability to do right by these [school] professionals, our children and families and our communities.”

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I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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