WASHINGTON - Amid continuing turmoil and controversy within Prince George’s County Public Schools, people continue to speak out about their concerns about the school system. FOX 5 spoke with one of the employees recommended for termination after allegations of abuse in the Head Start program led to the loss of $6.5 million in federal funding.
Even as this former staff member tries to save her job and reputation, she said she is concerned the county has not changed its ways to properly protect children.
Demetrius Deal said she was terminated for failing to report incidents of abuse and misconduct. However, she claims that is patently untrue and a mother whose child was involved in one allegation backs her up.
That mother said she is afraid to go on camera as she worries how it will affect her children in other county schools. But she said Deal was the only advocate she and her son ever had at the beleaguered Head Start program.
“There is so much going on,” Deal said. “I'm in disbelief. I can’t believe the climate of this whole organization and it is disheartening.”
Deal is a product of Head Start and worked for the program in Prince George’s County for 18 years. She was prepping for this school year and had events planned for the 80 families on her caseload at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center in Capitol Heights until she was terminated in September.
Deal has piles of correspondence she said clearly show that she notified her superiors every time an allegation of misconduct or abuse was brought to her attention. But she doesn't know what happened after that.
“There are a lot of people who knew about these issues,” said Deal. “A lot of reports should have been submitted to principals and program supervisors. They just basically demonstrated willful blindness. There is a lot of cover up going on in these schools that is not reaching the top. They are covering up in house.”
Deal told FOX 5 she was scapegoated after she supported a parent who came forward saying a Head Start teacher had disciplined a 3-year-old boy by forcing him to mop up his own urine as after he wet himself during a nap.
“Most definitely I have been blackballed and bullied ever since I supported this parent,” said Deal.
That incident was one the federal government cited in a report that led to the termination of a federal grant funding the county’s Head Start program.
Deal said the system penalized her for doing everything right and now she worries that will have a chilling effect on others still employed in the school system.
“A lot of educators are afraid to report because they feel like they are going to get fired or going to be retaliation or no one is going to believe them,” she said. “They will be looked at like me – a whistleblower.”
Deal is appealing her termination and said she will likely sue for wrongful termination if she is not successful.
A school spokesperson told FOX 5 that Deal had a chance to make her case to the school system and either she did not share details or they were not found to be valid.
The spokesperson also said the county trained all staff in March and again in August on the proper way to report child abuse and neglect claims.