UPPER MARLBORO, MD (WUSA9) – An allegedly abusive Head Start Teacher continued to work at her victim’s school for nearly a month — even after a desperate mother reported the abuse of her three-year-old son to the highest levels a Maryland public school system, according to emails and documents addressed to top officials obtained by WUSA9.
The Prince George’s County teacher was later allowed to transfer to another school for special needs children, while she wrote a glowing good-bye letter to parents.
Her departure was announced three days before a federal investigation of abuse was launched. She was only suspended when the scandal became public 8 months later.
Meanwhile, as federal investigators were threatening to withhold millions in funding because of safety problems in the program, the School CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell’s chief of staff actively battled with the Board of Education’s Vice Chair to keep discussion of the subsequent federal investigation off the board’s public agenda, an email to a deputy superintendent and a top level curriculum director show.
The documents, along with the federal investigation report, paint a picture of an administration apparently unable, or unwilling to quickly react, even as a desperate mother’s allegations were confirmed by federal oversight investigators.
It all started December 17, 2015 when a 3-year old boy wet himself at naptime while enrolled in Head Start at the H. Winship Wheatley Early Education Center in Capitol Heights, Md.
According to investigators from the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, a teacher then humiliated the child by forcing him to mop up urine from the floor in front of his classmates, all while the teacher took photos on her cell phone and sent them to the child’s mother. At one point the teacher texted “LOL”.
The mother was beside herself.
“She had the nerve to write “LOL” at the end!” the mother wrote in an email to top school officials. “It was far from funny.”
School CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell, Curriculum and Instruction Director Gladys Whitehead, Head Start Program Director Sandra Kee and H. Winship Wheatley Principal Julie Oregettas were all recipients of the mother’s detailed complaint which was send on January 19.
The next day the incident was reported to Prince George’s County Child Protective Services, as required by law. Yet the teacher continued to work.
“I cannot put into word(s) the utter helplessness, disappointment and fear I felt when I saw she was allowed to come right back to work like nothing happened,” the victim’s mother wrote in her email to top officials.
The situation languished for weeks. The mother was so desperate she swore out a peace order against the teacher on February 8 to prevent her from having contact with the boy while at school, according to online court records.
The teacher was finally transferred to another school, just 3-days before a federal investigation was launched by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, which had been alerted to the situation.
“It’s an opportunity I can’t let pass by,” the teacher wrote in a good-bye email to Head Start parents at H. Winship Wheatley. “I’m saddened because I will miss each of your and your children.”
While the teacher continued to work at another school, federal Investigators quickly collected evidence including the photos of the abused boy mopping urine in wet clothes, and concluded the abuse occurred.
On March 1, they formally notified the school system’s administration of “deficiencies” that needed immediate correction.
Top officials were warned that $6.4 in federal funding provided to the county to operate Head Start was in jeopardy.
A Head Start advisory council made up of parents were also aware of the situation and discussed the abuse matter, according to minutes of their meeting.
By early April, Board of Education Vice Chair Carolyn Boston was advocating to disclose the matter publicly in an open Board of Education meeting scheduled for later in the month.
But George Margolies, the Chief of Staff to School’s CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell, fought hard to suppress airing the matter in public, including “the recent discussion over the past many months over the viability of our continued grant from and the contractual relationship with the Federal Government,” according to an email obtained by WUSA9.
“This is all part of a culture of cover-up that needs to end,” complained dissident Board of Education member Edward Burroughs after reading the email.
In the email to a deputy superintendent Margolies reported he and Boston agreed to a “compromise” supported by Board of Education Chairman Dr. Segun Eubanks.
The Head Start abuse scandal “will not be a discussion item,” Margolies wrote. Instead the minutes of the Head Start advisory council meeting, which included few details of the investigation, would be posted on-line for “Board member’s reading pleasure,” said Margolies.
Margolies noted “the few people remaining in the audience” when the Board Chair would mention only that “Follow up Items” would be posted online. There would be no specific mention of abuse allegations.
“We would post these on a monthly basis and, in doing so, Carolyn (Boston), was convinced that she can say that we have satisfied any requirement that the doings and minutes of the (Head Start) Council have been shared with the Board as part of its oversight.
The teacher in the case was finally suspended in August, after the federal oversight report was made public and funding was withheld. CEO Kevin Maxwell has recommended to the Board of Education that she be fired.
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