By Kevin O’Rourke
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr has created a workgroup to recommend ways for the school system to enhance awareness of child abuse and neglect among parents, staff and students and improve how MCPS monitors and reports allegations of abuse or neglect.
The County Council’s education committee, of which Germantown Councilmember Craig Rice is the chair, along with MCPS are planning a public meeting for Feb. 2, 2015 to bring together county officials, prosecutors, police, school officials and parent to discuss the school district’s policies and procedures
“All of us were extremely shocked, disappointed, by the lack of follow-through at a few of our schools,” Rice told the Washington Post. Rice told The Post he wants to discuss “step by step” the handling of recent cases. “There’s no doubt mistakes were made,” he said. “Especially when it’s this serious, it requires us to put policies in place that protect our kids and make sure our community is informed.”
The public meeting is part of the work which has been being done by the Child Abuse and Neglect Workgroup which was created earlier this fall. That group which has met a number of times since the allegations of child abuse in area middle schools has brought the issue to the attention of parents through the school system, is tasked with will examining, updating, and enhancing the MCPS systemic program of continuous learning and awareness to inform and update staff, parents, and students on recognizing the signs of child abuse/neglect and reporting procedures based on best practices and legal requirements.
The workgroup includes MCPS staff, parents, community members, and representatives from Montgomery County Child Protective Services, the Montgomery County Police Department, and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office.
Among the workgroup’s stated objectives is to compile best practices for appropriate school response to cases, and keep the community involved an aware through open dialogue and communication.
“Subcommittees are developing recommendations in several areas, including updating the current MCPS policy and regulation on child abuse and neglect; enhancing annual mandatory training for all staff; compiling best practices for appropriate school response to cases presented; parent education on child abuse and neglect; student education and awareness; and keeping the community involved and aware through open dialogue and communication,” according to the MCPS website.
In October, Jose Pineda, a substitute teacher at Roberto Clemente Middle School was arrested for inappropriately touching a 12-year-old student, and John E. Epps, a MCPS contractor is charged with inappropriately touching a 12-year-old girl in at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus. After Pineda’s arrest, students from other schools where he’s worked have come forward to report additional instances of and he was charged with four more counts.
The Washington Post reports the school system also now has a database to track allegations, employees are getting new training and principals are reviewing protocols for handling abuse allegations.