Some School Board Members in Prince George’s Say They Were Not Informed About Head Start Investigation

What to Know

  • A federal investigation allegedly revealed poor instructor training and alleged abuse of students.
  • The grant was terminated due to failure to "timely correct one or more deficiencies," a spokesperson said.
  • Despite the loss of the grant, the program will begin Aug. 29 as planned, a spokesperson said.

Some members of the Prince George's County school board say they were not informed about a federal investigation into the county's head start program until news broke that it would lose a large federal grant.

"What other issues don't we know about that could be as egregious as this one?" asked Ed Burroughs, a member of the school board.

The county's Head Start program was informed on Monday that it had lost a $6.5 million federal grant after complaints of abuse and poor teacher training surfaced during an investigation.

Burroughs said members of the school administration kept the federal investigation secret, until news broke Wednesday of students being humiliated, punished physically and left unattended.

The vice chair of the school board is the liaison for Head Start, but that person did not share the news of the investigation with the rest of the school board. 

"The majority of the board members found out yesterday, once the story was already broken," Burroughs said. 

"If it is my job as a member of the board to hold the system accountable to do what's best for kids, it's important that we all have the same information," he said.

Burroughs said he and some other county officials will send a letter to the Prince George's County executive, demanding an external investigation into the loss of the grant.

"What gets measured gets improved. What we examine gets better," he said. "But because we knew noting about it, we were not able to intervene.

"I understand the public's distrust," he said. "I have same distrust. And I am on the school board."

The program was apparently under a federal investigation for months after a review by the Administration for Children and Families allegedly revealed poor instructor training and alleged abuse of students.

According to the review, a teacher at the H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center in Capitol Heights forced a 3-year-old boy to mop up his own urine after he had a bathroom accident during naptime on Dec. 17, 2015. 

As the child mopped the floor in urine-stained clothes, the teacher sent a photo to the boy's parent with a caption explaining the punishment. The message included the abbreviation "LOL." Another text sent to the parent said, "he worked that mop tho."

The Administration for Children and Families says the punishment and texts were meant to humiliate the child and are a form of emotional abuse.

On June 15, a teacher and teacher's assistant at James Ryder Randall Elementary School Head Start Center forced two children to hold objects over their head for an extended period of time as a punishment for their behavior. 

A witness said one of the children was crying and calling the teacher's name, but was instructed to continue to hold the object. The other child dropped the object and was told to pick it back up, the Administration for Children and Families says.

The witness reported the incident and later asked the teacher how many minutes the children were given. The teacher replied, "Oh, probably like 5 minutes," the report from the Administration for Children and Families says.

The review also found delays in the reporting of the incident that have since been corrected. 

In yet another incident, a five-year-old was able to wander away from the program and returned to his home, crying. According to the report, the child was unsupervised for about 50 minutes, and Head Start did not know where she was for about 75 minutes.

The child had to cross at least one street to get home, the report said.

Prince George's County School CEO Kevin Maxwell responded to the report bluntly: "With all the work that we have done, we still have some people who we haven't apparently gotten through to," Maxwell said.

"What I can say is I expect our employees to behave appropriately," Maxwell said. "And when they don't, I am going to deal with them appropriately."

Despite the loss of the grant, the program will begin Aug. 29 as planned.

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