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Prince George’s Co. Schools CEO asks for review of Head Start program

WASHINGTON — The head of Prince George’s County Public Schools said he has asked state education authorities to carry out full audit of the county’s embattled Head Start program — a month after a scathing federal report found teachers used corporal punishment on preschoolers and the feds yanked funding.

Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell announced Thursday he asked the Maryland Department of Education to conduct a “full performance audit” of the program, which lost $6.5 million in federal funding last month.

Maxwell’s announcement came the same day Prince George’s County School board met to discuss the county’s Head Start program and the day after Maxwell asked his chief of staff to resign. At least one board member told WTOP he would call for Maxwell’s own resignation, however Maxwell continues to enjoy the support of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker

“Since the start of the school year, questions and concerns regarding the termination of our Head Start program grant have dominated the public landscape,” Maxwell said in a statement. He said he asked for the audit “in an effort to bring clarity to our Head Start program operations and management and the circumstances surrounding the grant termination.”

The federal report said county Head Start educators used corporal punishment and humiliation to discipline students, including forcing a 3-year-old to mop up his own urine after an accident and ordering children to hold heavy boxes over their heads when they misbehaved.

Since the allegations came to light, an out-of-state company has been running the county’s Head Start program, which provides early education programming for more than 930 students between ages 3 and 5.

Maxwell said he also requested a separate review of “internal communications and employee and labor relations protocols” at all Prince George County Public Schools, which have been rocked by a string of allegations of neglected and mistreated students.

The second review will be carried out by school superintendents from across Maryland, he said.

“Our significant gaps in these two areas are hindering our efforts towards full accountability, transparency and responsiveness to incidences of suspected child abuse, neglect and inappropriate conduct,” he said.

Prince George’s County school board member Edward Burroughs has been critical of Maxwell’s handling of the loss of a $6 million Head Start grant and allegations of abuse and neglect by school staff members. He told WTOP he would push for Maxwell to resign.

On Wednesday, Maxwell announced he asked his chief of staff, George Margolies, to step down.

Although Maxwell did not disclose a specific reason for Margolies’ departure, emails obtained by WTOP’s broadcast partners at NBC Washington show Margolies argued with school board members over keeping Head Start issues off the board’s public agenda.

The school system has been plagued this year by a series of scandals involving alleged abuse of students.

Police on Wednesday said they were investigating reports that a nurse not employed by the school system beat a special needs students on a school bus in Bowie, Maryland, earlier this month. That incident came weeks after allegations that a county school bus aide molested special needs students on a bus in Clinton, Maryland.

Earlier this year, a 22-year-old former teacher’s aide at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary was arrested and faces numerous counts of sexual abuse and child pornography charges after police said he coerced nearly two dozen children into performing sex acts on him and each other.

Last week, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker told reporters he understood parents had concerns about student safety but that he didn’t think Maxwell should step down.

Baker, the Prince George’s County executive, told reporters Thursday morning he still has confidence in Maxwell and doesn’t think he should resign.

Baker, however, has said there’s a culture in the school system that needs to change

“I believe he’s the person that can make those changes,” Baker told reporters. “That’s why I’m sticking by him

Baker, who appointed Maxwell and has authority over who runs the school systems, said his office will closely monitor Maxwell’s performance, including holding daily meetings with the schools chief.

“I want a sense of urgency to change the system throughout, from K-12,” Baker said. “Every aspect, whether you’re a bus driver, whether you work in the cafeteria, whether you’re a contractor, I want a sense of urgency that we need to make this the best system, the safest system, for people’s children.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. 

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