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Maryland District Loses $6.4 Million Head Start Grant Over Abuse, Neglect Findings

The Prince George's County, Md. school district had its Head Start grant for the 2016-17 school year revoked this week after incidents where children were forced to hold heavy boxes for refusing to nap, and a child was left unattended for close to an hour and ended up walking back home.

The county, a suburb of Washington D.C., had already been under scrutiny from the Office of Head Start from an earlier inciden that involved a Head Start employee telling a 3-year-old to mop up his urine after a bathroom accident. The Head Start staff member texted a picture of the child to his mother, with the message "lol" and "he worked that mop tho." 

The Prince George's program serves 932 children and was slated to open Aug. 29. The federal Administration for Children and Families, which oversees Head Start and is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that it was committed to continuing Head Start services in the county and to minimizing disruptions to children and families. No transition plans have been finalized, but Head Start does have a contract with Community Development Institute to provide interim services when a grant has been revoked. 

The Aug. 12 letter to the county revoking its grant started with an incident in December 2015. A child who wet his bed after naptime was made to mop up the urine while still wearing his wet clothes, the letter said. The teacher explained in a statement that she wanted the child to understand how hard a custodian's job might be. The program was cited for allowing humiliation as a punishment, as well as violating confidientiality policies by taking a picture of the child and for not reporting the incident right away. 

The teacher was removed from Head Start, and the program added more staff training. But on June 15, two children were forced by a teacher and an assistant teacher to hold objects over their head as a punishment for misbehavior during nap time. They were told more time would be added to their punishment if they moved or dropped the boxes. 

A partial statement from one of the children said: "[the assistant teacher] wanted me to hold boxes in the air. I couldn't breathe. When [the teacher] came in, she made me hold more books my arms melted. I cried because my arms hurt so much." 

Head Start Student Walked Home Unattended

And on June 9, a 5-year-old child at one of the county-run programs walked home after she returned from a visit to the nurse's office and found that her classroom was empty because the other children were on the playground at the time. The child's aunt found her outside her apartment's door, crying and visibly upset. The report said that the child was unsupervised for about 50 minutes, and that Head Start employees didn't know where she was for about 75 minutes. The child had to cross at least one street to get home. 

Kevin Maxwell, the superintendent of the school district, said in statement that "we are deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to this decision. A handful of people used unacceptably poor judgment that compromised children's learning environments, their personal well-being, and a program that has positively impacted countless lives in Prince George's County." 

He added, "To our parents with children enrolled in Head Start and throughout the system, please let me state in no uncertain terms: These incidents are completely unacceptable. They betray the confidence that you place in our schools. There is no room in Prince George's County Public Schools for individuals who do not treat our students with compassion, with care, and with concern for their complete well-being. They will be held accountable to the fullest extent."

Segun Eubanks, the chairman of the county's school board, added: "Without question, the first priority of the Board of Education is the 932 children currently receiving Head Start services. The Board of Education will evaluate all options over the coming weeks and months for Head Start's continued operation. We will do everything we can for the children and families who participate in this program. We have made progress, but there is clearly more to be done."

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