Residents of Prince George’s County are upset over the possible loss of millions of dollars in funding for one of the nation’s most successful pre-school programs following a report detailing abuse of children at several schools.
On Aug. 17, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, Prince George’s County School Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, and members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education were notified by officials of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that the $6.4 million Head Start grant had been terminated. The notification indicated this was due to uncorrected problems with the program regarding the questionable behavior of staff toward children.
Baker is angry that the county is set to lose money on a program he considers vital to the lives of young Prince Georgians. “I have asked Dr. Maxwell to address this matter immediately and I have confidence that he and the Board of Education will ensure that the families of 932 children in the program do not lose this valuable and important educational service,” Baker said. “The acts that are documented in the HHS report from the Head Start are unacceptable and will not be tolerated in our school system.”
Head Start, founded in 1965, is a comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. It is a federally-funded program that started out as a summer school bridge for preschoolers to the first grade in elementary school. Presently, students can enroll in Head Start at the age of three. The program includes components that address problems such as family dysfunction, health needs, and chronic poverty.
The report cites an incident at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center in Capitol Heights, Md. where a three-year old was forced to mop up his own urine after having an accident. The teacher then texted the boy’s mother photos with the word “LOL” on them, according to the report. Another incident involved two children at James Ryder Randall Elementary School Head Start Center in Clinton, Md., who were ordered, by their teacher to hold boxes full of books on top of their heads as punishment.
In another incident, a five-year-old girl left school unnoticed and walked home alone. Baker said the report “demonstrates that there are teachers and other school professionals in our school system who did not understand the sacred nature of their responsibility.”
“Head Start was designed to provide a nurturing learning environment for early learners and our school system must ensure that the students we are entrusted to protect are safe,” Baker said.
Baker is not the only Prince Georgian outraged about the Head Start matter. Bob Ross, the president of the Prince George’s County NAACP, told the AFRO that his branch is taking action. “We want to protect the children and the program and we think that heads should roll over this,” Ross said. “This didn’t happen overnight and I think this is a leadership problem. If someone allegedly did those things to children, that’s child abuse. There should be an investigation and it should not be done internally by the school system but by someone on the outside.”
Ross said his branch’s education committee is looking into the matter and will make a report to the general body probably at its September meeting and decide on a course of action then.
Prince George’s County Board of Education member Edward Burroughs, in a brief interview with the AFRO and other media, said he is upset he was not informed of the Head Start situation sooner. “The Board of Education will meet on Thursday and I will demand some answers as to what is going on,” Burroughs said. Burroughs noted that the county has 30 days to appeal the decision of the HHS and if unsuccessful, will consider options including providing funding from its coffers.
In a statement released on Aug. 18 by Maxwell, he pledged to hold the offenders in this situation “accountable to the fullest extent.”
Baker said he pledges to straighten out the matter. “I also want to assure the families in our Head Start Program that school will start on Aug. 29 as scheduled and that your child will be nurtured and provided with an excellent head start to their education,” he said.