Five members of the Prince George’s County school board called for the resignation of the board’s top leaders this week after the county lost $6.4 million in federal funding for early childhood education because of allegations of child abuse in the local Head Start program.
The board members asked County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to seek the removal of board chair Segun C. Eubanks and vice chair Carolyn A. Boston, citing a lack of confidence in their leadership and failures in accountability, transparency and collaboration.
A spokesman for Baker (D) said the county executive has full confidence in the board’s leadership and does not intend to ask Eubanks and Boston to step down. Eubanks and Boston did not respond to requests for comment, but Eubanks released a statement Tuesday saying that he and Boston “will remain focused on doing everything in our power to ensure the continuous and ever-improving operation of the Head Start program in Prince George’s County for years to come.”
The clash came days after Prince George’s district officials say they were notified that the school system would be losing its federal Head Start grant for failing to correct deficiencies identified earlier this year. Federal officials said that problems included at least two abusive situations: a 3-year-old was forced to mop up his urine in front of class after an accident and two children were made to hold heavy objects over their heads after they played during nap time. Federal officials also cited a case in which a 5-year-old left a school unnoticed and walked home alone.
The five board members who signed the Aug. 22 letter — Beverly Anderson, Edward Burroughs III, Zabrina Epps, Verjeana M. Jacobs and Sonya Williams — wrote that they “horrifyingly learned for the first time of the abuse” during an emergency conference call Aug. 17 — the same day it was publicly reported that the federal government was pulling the Head Start funding.
They said the full board was not properly informed of problems in Head Start and had not discussed incidents of child mistreatment or possible termination of the federal grant. The letter also alleged that the chair and vice chair make unilateral decisions, not recognizing that oversight authority belongs to the full board and that decisions can be made only when the board is in session.
“Please know we believe that if the first instance of inappropriate behavior by a PGCPS Head Start teacher were brought to the attention of the full board for discussion, there would not have been a second or third incident of mistreatment of children,” the board members wrote, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.
The board members also said that Eubanks and Boston were “disingenuous” in public claims last week that the board had been made aware of the concerns and the federal review, saying that board documents they received in March “did not mention the abuse” and that members were never made aware of the potential for federal termination of funding.
“For five and one-half months, while children continued to be harmed, the Chair and Vice Chair concealed pertinent information regarding the issues attendant to the Head Start program,” the letter said. Had the full board known of specifics, it said, “we could have directed the administration to provide the board with regular reports of corrective action.”
Prince George’s schools chief Kevin M. Maxwell said last week that the incidents outlined in the report showed “poor judgment” from “a handful of people.” He and Eubanks pledged that the program, which serves more than 930 children from low-income families, would open as planned on Monday.
It is unclear how the county will come up with the additional $6.4 million it would need to maintain the program at current levels, and school officials are trying to figure out how to fund Head Start in the future.
In an effort to turn around the struggling school system, Baker several years ago tried to wrest full control of the county school system from the elected school board, telling state lawmakers that the school system was stifling the county’s ability to attract businesses. And while state legislators did not support the full takeover, they did give Baker the authority to select the schools chief, the board’s leadership and the appointment of three new board members.
Baker appointed Eubanks and Boston to their positions in 2013. Baker originally appointed two of the board members who signed the letter — Anderson and Williams — to the newly constituted 13-member board. Williams was appointed in 2014 to fill a seat vacated by an elected member, and she won election to the seat later that year.
The reconfigured board was created three years ago as residents and lawmakers complained about a lack of accountability surrounding operations of the school system. The letter calling for leadership resignations indicates that divisions on the board continue.