Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell (left) listens as a group discusses ways to improve transparency among school officials during a community summit at Ernest E. Just Middle School in Mitchellville on Nov. 5. /Photo by William J. Ford

Prince George’s County Public Schools held a community summit Saturday to hear from parents and community leaders on how the system could hold itself accountable and ensure schools are safe.

The four-hour summit at Ernest E. Just Middle School in Mitchellville gave a forum for suggestions, which included communicating pertinent information to parents in a timely manner and providing staff with more professional development to better handle student behavior.

“I wasn’t sure about what issues [school officials] were going to be talking about. I just wanted to be a part of the discussion and see if I could learn anything,” said Curtis Smith, 75, of Mitchellville and a substitute teacher for three years.

The dozens in attendance Saturday used electronic devices to answer questions and rank the most important actions.

On one question addressing inappropriate behavior, 80 percent said more professional development is needed for staff on customer service, deescalation and other procedures with dealing with student issues. About 40 percent would like the schools to establish a more welcoming environment for parents and volunteers.

“It’s a very important conversation,” said county schools CEO Kevin Maxwell about safety. “We want to make sure we are not just saying, ‘Here’s our best thoughts.’ We are including people’s suggestions, their ideas and heartfelt concerns about this work.”

Attendees also received a student safety booklet offered in English and Spanish with advice on reporting child abuse, social media checklist for parents and online resources.

The 16-page pamphlet also provides tips on helping children cope with sexual abuse, including:

  • Know the people, both adults and children, in your child’s life;
  • Reassure your child that you and their teachers are there to protect them and are working very hard to make sure they are;
  • Model calm and control; and
  • Contact the police or Child Protective Services if your child discloses direct abuse, or has witnessed inappropriate behavior.

Officials recently held other safety-related events such as an hourlong telephone town hall with nearly 12,000 participants and a social media conversation via Twitter.

A social media town hall will take place Thursday at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Schools received online threats last month that resulted in the arrest of a Parkdale High School student and disciplinary action against another student at Bladensburg High School, police said.

Additionally, school officials have dealt with allegations of child abuse, neglect and other offenses, ultimately resulting in the loss of more than $6 million in federal funding.

Officials plan to host another summit in February, though school board member Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) said more people should’ve been in attendance Saturday.

“This work that were talking about is really grass roots,” she said. “The grass-roots effort is what holds us accountable. Parents need to understand the power of their voice and use it. When parents decide collectively that it’s there isolated issue, that’s when change happens in Prince George’s County.”

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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