The new policy and regulations would, among other steps, update existing policies to reflect best practices, improve scrutiny of prospective employees and others who have access to students and improve coordination between MCPS, police and county agencies when handling abuse and neglect allegations, according to MCPS officials.
Officials are also recommending annual training for the district’s 23,000 employees that focuses on policies and procedures, creation of a comprehensive parent-awareness program and lessons for students about personal safety and abuse prevention. The recommendations call for ongoing updates to employees’ background information and screening of prospective volunteers and contractors who would have access to students not under direct supervision of MCPS staff.
Representatives from MCPS, the county police and the county’s State’s Attorney Office on Monday briefed the County Council’s Education Committee on 28 recommendations developed in coordination with an MCPS working group. The working group, which included parents and staff from county agencies, was established in summer 2014 to examine the school system’s practices with an eye toward enhancing and improving procedures.
The creation of the work group came in the wake of several cases charging inappropriate conduct by MCPS employees or contractors, leading to concerns about the district’s hiring practices, how it deals with tracking allegations of such behavior and its system for notifying parents when abuse allegations arise.
MCPS Chief of Staff Andrew Zuckerman described the efforts of the work group as “evolving” and said the district must be focused on “continuously updating” its policies and procedures to reflect best practices for handling child abuse and neglect. Existing MCPS policy hadn’t been updated in 25 years, he said, adding that the work group and MCPS reviewed policies in neighboring school districts when developing the recommendations.
He expected that MCPS staff would deliver a draft of the new policy and regulations to the school board by late February or early March with the goal of finalizing a policy and regulations by the end of the school year. MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr had presented the set of recommendations to the board in January.
Included among the district’s recommendations are providing annual training on policy and procedures to its 23,000 employees, creating a comprehensive parent-awareness program for identifying abuse and providing opportunities to teach students about personal safety and abuse prevention. Another recommendation suggested that school officials consult county agencies about notifying parents concerning incidents of child abuse.
“There’s no option for failure in any of this. Every one of these is critical,” Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill told committee chairman Craig Rice and member Marc Elrich. Council member Nancy Navarro, who also sits on the committee, could not attend due to illness.
Hamill said he expected that the district’s new policy is “going to serve as a model policy across the country very shortly.”
Debbie Feinstein, chief of the Family Violence Division of the State’s Attorney’s Office, said that participating in the work group provided the agency’s first opportunity to collaborate with MCPS on child abuse and neglect issues. The proposed recommendations are designed to “make our community a community where predators don’t want to come, they don’t want to waste their time.”
She said participants agreed with the priority of her office: that police and child welfare officials, not school officials, investigate allegations of abuse and neglect.
Rice said that, in addition to the proposed recommendations, parents and other community members want to make sure that school officials always involve police when allegations surface and that a suspected offender is removed from the school system. Also, parents must be notified and students who may have been victims should be protected and receive services, he said.
“My promise to the kids: We will get this right and make sure we have one of the best policies in the nation,” he said.