Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (right) and public schools CEO Kevin Maxwell speak to reporters outside Glassmanor Elementary in Oxon Hill on Aug. 29, the first day of school for the county's Head Start program. Photo by William J. Ford
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (right) and public schools CEO Kevin Maxwell speak to reporters outside Glassmanor Elementary in Oxon Hill on Aug. 29, the first day of school for the county's Head Start program. Photo by William J. Ford

Prince George’s County Council grilled school officials for more than two hours Monday, Sept. 19 on how the school system will improve amid allegations of child abuse in the Head Start program and on a school bus.

Although the council doesn’t hire and fire school employees, it holds sway as the authority over the county’s education budget.

“I don’t want anyone to be mistaken that the County Council is attempting to usurp the responsibility and authority of the board of education,” said Council Chairman Derrick Leon Davis (D-District 6) of Upper Marlboro. “It is our responsibility to make sure we are functioning at best.”

Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell reiterated that employees received positive behavior reinforcement training and how to properly report child abuse, stressing that there is now a process in place for him and his management team to receive information sooner about child neglect allegations.

He said this stems from the creation of a Student Safety Task Force after a former teacher’s aide and school volunteer was charged earlier this year with producing child pornography at a Glenardern elementary school and other locations.

The task force recommendations issued in May include a new Office of Monitoring, Accountability and Compliance to oversee the fidelity of training and other new procedures for staff to be mandated reporters, which means an employee must report any suspected abuse to Child Protective Services or the police. The previous policy changed several months ago allowed an employee to report it to an immediate supervisor, which at times was reported late.

Council Vice Chairwoman Dannielle Glaros (D-District 3) of Riverdale Park agreed with the policy change that all school employees should report possible abuse, but top school officials must also be informed in a timely fashion.

“I am concerned about getting the process right,” she said. “When people know about different things is important. We still have a long way to do that better.”

Maxwell agreed.

“I’m still angry and frustrated by the length of time that has passed between certain incidents and the reporting, but we will get that right,” he said. “We must improve. We cannot wait. I am committed to doing my part and to making sure that our employees understand the consequences if they fail to do theirs.”

Because of the ongoing allegations, several residents will rally Monday, Sept. 26 at the county administration building in Upper Marlboro to push state legislators to repeal House Bill 1170, which allows the county executive to appoint the chair and vice chair of the school board and also select the chief executive officer, or superintendent, provided by a search committee.

Tonya Wingfield of Bowie, one of the rally organizers, said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is complicit by his inaction.

“I think a lot of people are just fed up with what’s going on lately,” she said. “[Baker] is ignoring everything. He is ignoring that kids were abused. He has refused to change leadership, but it is obvious there is corruption.”

A father whose 4-year-old son was allegedly abused by a school bus aide said Child Protective Services contacted him last month to help determine whether his son is in any video footage with the aide dating back to November.

Police confirmed school officials contacted them in June to investigate the matter, but no criminal charges have yet been filed, though Maxwell said there could be a resolution this week.

That incident came in the wake of the county losing more than $6 million in federal funding for its Head Start program after an investigation turned up several instances of child abuse and humiliation, including one child being forced to mop up his own urine after accidentally wetting himself.

School officials said the Head Start employees in question were removed from the classrooms and no longer allowed to work in county schools.

“I am extremely frustrated and disgusted over the things that have happened in the past year,” said Councilwoman Andrea Harrison (D-District 5) of Springdale. “While I appreciate everything here that has been said, but it is not much comfort to the parents and residents of this county. We pay a boatload of taxes and we expect to get better than what we have been seeing.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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