NAACP leaders in Prince George’s County called for the removal of schools chief Kevin Maxwell after a string of school system scandals involving child abuse and other problems.
“It’s been one incident after another,” said Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s NAACP branch, which announced its request Wednesday. “It’s just out of control, and we need someone to come in and put it back on track.”
Ross and others asked that County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) take Maxwell out of the district’s top job. But Baker made it clear Wednesday that he has faith in the leader he tapped in 2013 to turn around a struggling school system.
Baker said that he had a “heart-to-heart” with Maxwell about a month ago over whether the right people are in place to make changes needed to ensure safety. He said he continues to meet with Maxwell and his top staff weekly.
“If I felt like Dr. Maxwell couldn’t get the job done, believe me, he would be gone tomorrow,” Baker said. “But I have talked to him, I have talked to his staff, they get it, they’ve got have a plan in action, and now I’ve got to make sure that they operate that plan. Are we going to have hiccups? Yes, we are. . . . The thing is, how do we deal with those, and how transparent are we?. . . I have asked him to be extremely transparent.”
Maxwell declined to comment Wednesday through a school system spokeswoman.
The leadership turmoil comes as Maxwell, in his fourth year as chief executive of the 130,000-student system, has been under increasing fire amid abuse cases that highlighted concerns about the district’s policies, safeguards and culture.
In February, a school volunteer, Deonte Carraway, was arrested on child pornography and related charges after he allegedly video recorded children performing sexual acts at an elementary school and other sites. He was indicted in June on 270 counts involving at least 23 victims, prosecutors said.
Federal officials decided to terminate the school system’s $6.4 million Head Start grant in August because of a failure to correct problems involving staff misconduct and child abuse.
Last month, a bus aide was charged with abusing two special needs children, and on Tuesday, police alleged that a high school teacher sexually assaulted one male student and exchanged inappropriate text messages with another.
When the Carraway case surfaced publicly, Maxwell created a safety task force that made recommendations for improvements. In September, amid calls for an investigation of the district’s handling of Head Start, Maxwell asked for a state audit and a separate review of internal communications and employee and labor relations protocols.
But NAACP leaders said the district has been slow to react, and many in the community have lost confidence in Maxwell’s leadership.
June White Dillard, an NAACP executive committee member, noted that Maxwell learned about Head Start problems shortly after a Feb. 29 letter from federal officials but that months passed before the school system took action.
“The school CEO has had a tremendous amount of time to deal with these issues and has not done anything effectively until August-September,” she said. “That kind of delay is just unconscionable, and therefore we don’t feel we have any confidence in the CEO, Maxwell, being able to handle this problem.”
Dillard said that Maxwell’s administration “has had way too long” to resolve issues in the system and that his deputies could take charge while the county looks for a new schools chief.
NAACP members also have concerns about late school buses, the fact that hundreds of employees are out on administrative leave, and a new practice that would require some students to pay for Advanced Placement exams that the school system used to cover, Ross said.
“It’s just a mess,” he said.
NAACP leaders met last week with Baker and Maxwell, and Ross said Baker conveyed his continuing support for the schools chief. NAACP leaders asked what the school system’s plan is for getting back on track. “We didn’t get a real good answer about that,” Ross said.
The NAACP branch has heard from critics and supporters of Maxwell, Ross said. But its executive committee voted last week to seek Maxwell’s removal, he said.
“There are some things he doesn’t have control over, and we realize that, but at some point you have to figure out how to get control over it,” Ross said.
Several of the 14 members of the Prince George’s school board called for Maxwell’s resignation a few weeks ago. Maxwell has said he has no plans to leave.
“I want our school system to be able to move forward and heal,” school board member Edward Burroughs III said Wednesday. “And we can’t do that with Dr. Maxwell at the top, unfortunately. It is important that parents, students and employees of the school district have confidence in our school system leadership.”