PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. - An open records request shows that Prince George's County Schools has paid close to $10 million to staff on administrative leave so far this school year.
That's a nearly 1,500 percent increase from the 2014-2015 school year before strict new policies on reporting alleged abuse were created. That year, about $630,000 was paid to employees on administrative leave.
New polices on student safety were put in place after several high-profile child abuse cases in Prince George's County Schools, but some say the measures go too far and have resulted in overreaction to minor incidents. The district confirms that the majority of the 625 staff members placed on leave for abuse or misconduct have been eventually returned to their jobs.
Bus driver Ya Ya Ouattara says he's been on leave since February because a student claimed he cursed at her. He says it never happened.
"It's hard for us," Ouattara said. "For me, very hard."
While teachers on leave are sent home from school while an investigation is underway, bus drivers are forced to continue to report to work. Unable to drive or be around students, video provided to FOX 5 shows how they pass the hours: playing cards and watching television.
"I have to sit on the bus lot and waiting (sic) until the supervisor will tell me something," said Ouattara.
He compares it to being in jail. Another bus driver told FOX 5 she didn't even know why she was placed on leave.
"I don't know why I'm sitting there," said the driver, who didn't want to be identified. "It makes you feel like you're not trusted. It makes you feel you could lose your job at any time."
While the district has paid significantly more money to staff on leave, the cost for substitutes has remained on track with what it was in 2014-2015. Our records request shows $34.6 million has been paid for substitutes this school year compared to $40.4 million for the entire 2014-2015 year.
PGCPS spokeswoman Raven Hill says it's because the district is using fewer retired teachers, who cost more per day.
As of May 1, there have been 788 cases of abuse and misconduct cases this school year.
"They have to find some way to fix this thing," Ouattara said.
He said after he was placed on leave, he tried to check on his case status, only to find his case appeared to be lost. Since we interviewed him, Ouattara has been cleared by Child Protective Services. For now though, he's still off the job. He has a meeting with district staff next week.
In a statement, Prince George's County Schools confirmed for the first time that policies changes are coming for next school year.
"Over the last two years, Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) has increased our focus on student safety in order to protect every child. Safe learning environments support our college and career-readiness goals for all students. We will not accept inappropriate or abusive behaviors towards children. No price is too high for a child's well-being.
The number of PGCPS employees on administrative leave is substantially higher due to our heightened emphasis on mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse/neglect. Correspondingly, administrative leave pay totals have increased during that time. The school system is legally required to pay the salaries in question, which were accounted for in the budget. Additionally, our substitute position costs are approximately $7 million to $13 million lower than previous years.
In preparation for the 2017-18 school year, we have spent the last several weeks reviewing all student safety administrative procedures. We will announce recommended changes in June. We will also begin employee training this summer that reflects situations encountered this year regarding Child Protective Services reporting requirements, student behavior and classroom management.
With additional employee training and other systemic changes, we expect improvements next school year."
The district also let FOX 5 know it had made errors in prior open records requests data.
While PGCPS told FOX 5 in May that 788 staff members had been placed on leave for misconduct and abuse, the correct total is 625 as of May 1. The total number of cases is 788.
SEPTEMBER 19, 2016: Over 100 Prince George's county school employees on leave over abuse, misconduct allegations
APRIL 12: Hundreds of Prince George's school staff members put on leave in misconduct cases this school year