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Board ponders if new policies are working, admin leave down

BOE buildingUPPER MARLBORO – Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) initiated new policies this school year to streamline study safety reports and prevent unneeded administrative leave, and the county board of education wants to make sure those policies are working.

Robin Welsh, executive director of monitoring, accountability and compliance, held a work session between the Prince George’s County Board of Education and PGCPS staff on Oct. 12 to go over a year’s worth of data, projects and reviews since the Student Safety Action Plan was put into place.

“Everything that we’re doing here is based on the recommendations and considerations that came from the Student Safety Task Force report in May of 2016 and based on that we had developed a Student Safety Action Plan, which was a comprehensive plan to address student safety in four critical areas,” Welsh said.

Welsh, members of her teams and several PGCPS staff, teachers and administrators talked to the board about the cultural change happening in the school system and the work put into student safety and school climate.

After the initial administrative procedures were put in place during the last school year, PGCPS put hundreds of school teachers, staff and administrators on leave due to reports of alleged child abuse, neglect or sexual abuse and paid nearly $10 million in paid leave.

While the school system said there is “no price too high for a child’s well-being,” Welsh said the influx of reports and employees out of administrative leave was a wake up call for the system.

“Because of this change in culture, we did have increased vigilance in the schools and our staff were more inclined to report others who did not follow the administrative procedures regarding interactions with students, or when there was a suspicion of child sexual abuse or neglect,” Welsh said. “In that process of the reporting, it became a big learning process for all of us and it made us realize that we needed to pay attention and we needed to make revisions and develop some new administrative procedures that would address the expectations for staff related to following processes that ensure student safety.”

She said PGCPS also realized it needed to invest more in training for its employees and staff to go over the changes, the proper procedures, and any strategies teachers can use to combat disruptive behavior. That training happened largely over the summer and will continue throughout the year.

“All this work that we have done, the result is that we’re ensuring that our schools provide a safer learning environment for all of students as compared to what was offered two years ago. So they’re definitely able to say that schools at this point, our staff are better equipped than they’ve ever been to ensure that our students are safe,” Welsh said.

At the beginning of this school year, PGCPS put into place three new administrative procedures, six procedures were given a second look and revised, and more than 90 percent of school staff underwent new online training modules, according to the school system.

Those three new procedures, AP 4219, 4220 and 4221, address directly inappropriate behavior and relationships betweens students, employees, contractors and volunteers, the escorting and supervision of elementary school students on school property and use of student restrooms. Revisions included updates to policies about school visitors, background check necessity, reporting of suspected child abused and how administrative leave is decided.

“That was the result of a committee made up of representatives of different departments across the school system as well as principals. We did get input from the different unions and we had parent representation,” Welsh said. “So, most of these changes are based on the recommendations of the people who were part of that committee.”

So far this year, the school system has 40 staff members on administrative leave, of which 21 are teachers. PGCPS said that number is down significantly from last year, when 848 members in total were placed on leave, due to the significant work and training around reporting and the revamped policies on what constituted administrative leave.

One point of controversy for the board during the work session was the development of a policy that requires parents give a 24-hour notice before wishing to observe a classroom.

Student member Amanya Paig said she had reservations about the policy because she believes the notice will prevent a parent from viewing the true nature of the classroom.

“If you inform them prior to coming into the classroom, you’re not getting that raw experience, you’re not getting first-hand what the teacher’s actually teaching and you’re not getting first-hand how your child’s actually acting,” she said. “I think it is important to give parents and guardians that freedom to go into a classroom when they please to check up on their child.”

Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed agreed and said she did not like the policy, but Deputy Superintendent Monica Goldson said the school system has had cases where parents came in to embarrass or reprimand their child in front the class. Furthermore, school staff said Montgomery County has the same policy, while Calvert County has a three-day notice policy.

“Oh man, I still don’t like it,” Ahmed said. “I don’t see why we would create more barriers for them to be able to be involved in their children’s education.”

Beyond new policies, Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III wanted to know what the school is doing to help students who went without their subject teachers for months at a time due to the backlog of administrative leave. He gave the example of students who took Spanish I with no teacher but were still advanced to Spanish II.

“There’s so many. Across the system if you have 400 teachers out and you do the math, that’s thousands of students who didn’t have a teacher and they’re all in the next grade level or they all have graduated. So I want to know what is the plan for those students,” he said.

Goldson said students were not penalized if they did not learn because a teacher was not there and said, in the best cases, principals have grouped students who did not have teachers together this year into classes where they will learn both the material they missed and the new year’s curriculum. She said online tools were also provided to the families of students who did not have teachers.

Burroughs said he would like to see solidified plans to close the gap for students who did not have teachers due to administrative leave.

School staff said they were open to the idea.

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