UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - The fallout from the $6.5 million in federal funds slashed from Prince George's County's Head Start program continues. On Thursday, the school board voted against appealing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to pull the grant last week.
This decision has Prince George's County parents scratching their heads while the school board promised the program will continue. Deciding not to appeal the decision will allow the board to now work with the federal government to find another source to manage the program, which will still be funded by the federal government.
The termination of the federal grant came as a result of an investigation by Health and Human Services that found concern over several child abuse allegations and conduct by staff that included humiliating children in the classroom, use of corporal punishment as a method of discipline and an incident that involved a 5-year-old child being found unattended after leaving school while class was in session.
The review found the school district did not do enough to fix the problem and decided to end the funding.
Furthermore, it appeared the board wanted to handle this crisis behind closed doors as they voted against requesting an external state and federal external investigation into the child abuse allegations that prompted it all.
“Typically, if that was any other position, if you lose $6.5 million, you would no longer be in your position,” said one parent at the meeting. “My take is this is not hurting them – it’s hurting our children.”
“I really felt bad because I understand the board wants to give an image that everything is okay from the outside, but then there are a lot of things going on the inside,” said another parent.
This school board meeting started nearly an hour late after a closed-door executive session. There were calls for the top brass to resign amid this scandal.
“For the five members that are willing to take a stand for our children and call for the resignation for the board chair and the vice chair – again, great job,” said one parent who spoke at the meeting.
Some board members initially wanted to keep what transpired in their closed-door session private. Ultimately, a decision was made to have a public vote showing who voted for what. Twelve board members voted in favor of relinquishing the federal funds for the Head Start program, including outspoken board member Edward Burroughs III. But he had this message for parents.
“I want all parents whose child has experienced any abuse or mistreatment in the past to come forward and contact [Child Protective Services] immediately and I want all school system staff to be reminded that they are a mandatory reporter and they have the responsibility to contact CPS whenever an incident occurs,” said Burroughs.
Moving forward, the board did vote to form a subcommittee to investigate what happened and also what the next steps will be for the Head Start program.