The Prince George’s County school system fails to provide many students and teachers with effective instruction on how to recognize and report sexual abuse of children, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report’s findings point to a need for sweeping improvements to better protect students in the Maryland district after an elementary school volunteer was charged with child sex abuse and creating child pornography.
Police and prosecutors say Deonte Carraway, 22, directed at least 17 children as young as 9 to perform sex acts and video-
recorded them, with some of the offenses taking place at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary during school hours.
A task force created to review district policies and procedures after Carraway’s arrest in February found that the school system’s training on identifying sexual abuse of pupils does not detail characteristics of abuse, including behaviors adults use to groom and manipulate their victims.
The report also found that the district has no requirement that ensures consistent training across the system on student sexual-abuse issues for adults who work with students. In two training sessions attended by task force members, instructors giving guidance to school volunteers fell short.
“Currently there is no policy or administrative procedure detailing what the training should include, how the training is to be conducted, what accountability measures are in place to monitor who has been trained, or what protocols are in place to test the understanding of and compliance with the training,” the report said.
Schools chief Kevin Maxwell, who created the task force, said the report was “an important step of many” toward making students safer. But Maxwell said he did not see its findings as evidence of a systemic problem.
The district has suffered problems, including those at Woods, Maxwell said, “but I don’t think when you look at the fact that we have over 20,000 employees on any given day that it speaks to the whole system of 20,000 people.”
The report laid out numerous specific shortcomings.
Guidelines for reporting suspected abuse have been lacking clarity, according to the report, which also said that administrators should work with child protective services, police, prosecutors or other sex-abuse experts to improve training.
“Employees, volunteers, and contractors are not fully comfortable and do not completely understand what types of disclosures and observations of abuse should be reported and so are hesitant to report,” the report said. It also said that school system employees who deliver training, “while well-intentioned, are not subject matter experts and may not be able to sufficiently respond to questions or concerns raised during training.”
The report also said that bus drivers, vendors and contractors are not required to participate in formal training.
Although the report emphasized that it is the responsibility of adults to protect children, it addressed weaknesses in the curriculum used to teach students how to protect themselves against predators.
Such material for high school students is “woefully outdated and frequently employs vague, unclear, or incorrect terminology,” according to an expert who reviewed the curriculum for the task force.
The report did not specifically address what went wrong in the Carraway case. His case was not mentioned by name in the report, and the report did not answer questions about how the volunteer was able to have so much time alone with children during school hours.
The report, however, alluded to concerns prompted by the Carraway investigation.
The task force suggested updating school procedures to ban school employees from communicating with students through anonymous social-media channels and clarify the school’s social media guidelines for students and employees.
Carraway admitted to distributing phones to some children to communicate with them through an anonymous messaging app and told the children they were part of a club, according to federal court papers.
The task force also made multiple suggestions about improving a procedure focused on volunteers in schools — which was last updated in 1998.
Volunteers should never be behind locked doors with students, should sign in and out, wear identification, undergo training on reporting child abuse, and not use student restrooms, the report said. The report also found that procedures for backgrounding and screening adults who work directly with students “are sometimes unclear, occasionally contradictory, and not always aligned with current practices.”
A comment from one parent in the report said the parent had volunteered in a classroom without a background check.
The task force’s recommendations included the establishment of an office of monitoring, accountability and compliance that would report to Maxwell and “assure fidelity” on such issues as training and awareness of abuse reporting responsibilities.
The group also urged Maxwell to report publicly every year on systemwide safety efforts, update curriculum focused on child sexual abuse, and ensure that principals conduct safety assessments. “System leaders and Principals bear the primary responsibility for creating a culture and climate of school safety,” the report said.
Another recommendation suggested the school system create a “universal precautions” approach to the screening and training of employees, volunteers, vendors and contractors, with a searchable database that would allow for “for rapid identification of red flags.”
“There is a severe lack of accountability at all levels,” according to a comment submitted to the task force and included in the report. “If employees aren’t informed of their duties and responsibilities as well as the consequences should they choose not to uphold those duties and responsibilities, some employees will take advantage of the system because they know there are no consequences for their actions.”
The task force recommended that individual schools consider hosting meetings for all employees to discuss child sexual-abuse policies and procedures, and that there be similar sessions for parents, volunteers, contractors and others.
The report had particularly pointed observations about training, saying that the school system recently required all principals and school staff to undergo training in light of Carraway’s arrest, but that the task force found flaws in how the school system approached training overall.
“The additional training we received due to the recent incident was not consistent throughout the county,” according to a survey comment included in the report. “Every building did something different.”
But the report found that like in many other places, adults may be afraid to report suspected abuse for various reasons: They’re worried that a report would mar someone’s personal and professional reputation if it turned out to be unfounded, or that children may be dishonest when disclosing alleged abuse and neglect.
Maxwell has instructed staff members to start implementing some of the task force’s recommendations. “We had a problem, and we know what we need to do better going forward.”