UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - Some Prince George's County school board members are meeting with employee union leaders to create a plan on how to address the huge number of staff members accused of abuse and misconduct.
FOX 5 uncovered there have been nearly 800 cases of abuse and misconduct so far this school year after new policies and procedures were put in place to address major cases of child abuse. In the majority of cases, staff members are put on administrative leave. Some feel it has reached a breaking point with so many teachers pulled from their classrooms, sometimes for months.
"It's definitely an overreaction when we have hundreds of innocent people we have placed out on administrative leave," said school board member Ed Burroughs. "And I'm not confident they are all going to come back to Prince George's County Schools."
He and board member Raaheela Ahmed said they met this week with union representatives.
"It was productive, and I feel like those are the types of collaborations and conversations we need to have to address this massive issue," said Ahmed. "Because it is a massive issue that is affecting not only those teachers, those professionals, those staff members that are out of our schools right now, but the students that work with them."
"There needs to be a plan," said Burroughs. "Currently, the superintendent doesn't have a plan to fix this for next year."
Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell answered questions about the issue for the first time Thursday. He said he is looking at "adjustments" to current practices and procedures, but did not provide specifics.
"The standards for how we conduct ourselves professionally will not change," Maxwell said.
He said that he has heard plenty of praise despite his critics.
"I'll tell you that I get just as many or more people coming up and saying, 'Thanks for what you're doing. Thanks for keeping our children safe,'" Maxwell said.
He said there are 128 teachers currently on leave.
FOX 5 has spoken to multiple staff members about the issue.
"I think it's a situation where people are trying to do the right thing, but doing it in a very poor way," one teacher said.
She said students are being hurt because their teachers are out, and substitutes and remaining staff have too much to handle.
"(Students) are getting pushed to the next grade level and they may have gone six or ten months without a reading teacher or a math teacher. This is really serious lack of education," she said.
She and other teachers FOX 5 spoke to said staff members are fearful to have any type of physical contact with students, even if a child needs help. She said she was called by students into a class to help break up an altercation.
"The teacher was standing there separate from them saying, 'Please stop, please stop, please stop,'" she said. "And the one student just had the other student by the neck. And so I stepped in, and I removed her hands from the child's neck. And the teacher came to me later and she said, 'Well, what are we supposed to do in that situation? I thought we're not supposed to touch the kids?' And for me, I'm willing to lose my job to make sure that a kid doesn't get hurt."
A former D.C. police officer who was a longtime substitute was among those accused of abuse and then cleared. Melody Rich-Neal said she won't return to the school district because she can't risk being accused again.
"You walk in with a clear record, and then you walk out fighting for your life," Rich-Neal said.
She and other Prince George's County Public Schools staff members tell FOX 5 that some students are fully aware they can get rid of staff they don't like, at least temporarily.
"They know. 'Oh shoot, all I got to do is say this and she'll be gone.' And they're right," she said.