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Montgomery school staff accused of misusing student work-study funds

Montgomery County Public Schools officials are investigating whether anyone at a school for special education students improperly used funds that some students earned through a work-study program.

Parents allege that school staff opened bank accounts for their children and withdrew cash without parental consent.

The staff under investigation work at Rock Terrace School in Rockville, according to school officials.

The school is designed for students between the ages of 12 and 21 who have developmental disabilities. The curriculum includes a program called Transition to Work, which provides students with vocational training and teaches them life skills. Parents say problems could extend to other programs at the school.

“While these are just allegations at this point, we are taking the matter very seriously and are conducting a thorough investigation,” Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said. “Appropriate action will be taken based on the facts of the case once the investigation is completed. In order to protect the integrity of this investigation, we will not comment further at this time.”

Lyda Astrove, a longtime Montgomery County special education advocate and attorney, has been helping Rock Terrace parents. Astrove and about a dozen parents from the school met Wednesday night to discuss their concerns.

Astrove said several parents who applied for public benefits for their children were told the children were not eligible to receive the funds because they had been earning their own income. The parents had not been aware that their children were being paid for work related to the school. The parents then learned that bank accounts had been opened to receive the children’s paychecks and that cash had been withdrawn from the accounts without parental knowledge, Astrove said.

“W-2s were issued by Montgomery County Public Schools that the parents had never seen,” Astrove said. “These kids are not capable of getting themselves to a bank and making cash withdrawals.”

Astrove said she reported parents’ concerns to the school system in mid-May and that some bank accounts appear to go back to at least 2004.

It is unclear exactly how many Rock Terrace students have bank accounts that have been opened without the knowledge of their parents, Astrove said.

“Parents are saying, ‘Where is this money, and what are these withdrawals? We want answers,’ ” Astrove said. “My hope is that the school system will contact everybody who has been at Rock Terrace in the last 10 years and advise them about this issue.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.

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