Friday, January 31, 2014

US DOJ Secures Back Wages for Students with Disabilities Who Were Financially Exploited by School District

News Release
WHD News Release: [01/28/2014]
Contact Name: Ted Fitzgerald or Jennifer Marion
Phone Number: (617) 565-2075 or (202) 693-5795
Email: or
Release Number: 13-2358-BOS

US Department of Labor secures more than $250,000 in back wages for student workers with disabilities in Providence, R.I.
Harold A. Birch Vocational Center and School violated federal minimum wage law

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The City of Providence, the Providence School Board and the Harold A. Birch Vocational Center and School have signed a settlement agreement to pay $250,859 in back wages to 60 student workers with disabilities following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division that found violations of the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. As part of the settlement agreement the department has retroactively revoked the certificate that allowed the school to pay the workers less than the current federal minimum wage for the work performed.
"This settlement is the result of a strategic enforcement initiative to protect workers with disabilities from exploitation," said David R. Gerrain, acting district director of the Wage and Hour Division's Hartford office. "Workers with disabilities deserve an opportunity to do meaningful work and to receive an income. Although employers may legally pay such workers below the current federal minimum wage, the law clearly states that they may only do so when they assure compliance with certain, key conditions."
"We applaud the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division for its efforts to enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect individuals with disabilities from exploitation and abuse. This agreement brings valuable compensation to students who, because of their disabilities, were deprived of appropriate wages, segregated from their peers, and denied the opportunity to prepare for work in real jobs," said Eve Hill, deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. "This compensation is an important step towards independence, economic self-sufficiency, and full community participation for these students."
Specifically, the department found that Birch Vocational School failed to determine the prevailing wage rates for workers performing similar work in the area, failed to determine the appropriate sub-minimum wage to be paid to each worker as allowed under Section 14(c) of the FLSA, failed to maintain proper records, and failed to properly pay employees in accordance with the Act.

To read the whole press release, CLICK HERE.

(Attention Montgomery County Board of Education, pick up the white courtesy phone.)

New California data show drop in overall school suspensions, expulsions

Blacks, Latinos still disproportionately affected, but stats indicate reform push may be working

From The Center for Public Integrity, post by Susan Ferriss.  To read the entire post go here.

Just as a federal effort to reform school discipline gets underway, the country’s most populous state — California — has released new data showing a significant one-year drop in suspensions and expulsions of schoolchildren.

However, Latino and black students in California continue to be affected disproportionately by discipline that removes them from classrooms and often leaves them further behind academically, as the Center for Public Integrity has reported in stories about San Francisco and rural Kern County.

The new data released by California’s Department of Education show that total student expulsions in the Golden State in the 2012-2013 academic year fell by about 12 percent from the previous year. That means about 8,560 students were ordered removed last year for a semester or an entire academic year from their regular schools.


California’s new data also reveals that a region with a reputation for tough school discipline — the Central Valley’s Kern County — has cut its expulsions but continues to remove students in raw numbers that rival far more populous Los Angeles County.

Kern had an enrollment of only about 178,600 students compared to Los Angeles County’s more than 1.5 million students last year. But in Kern County, 509 students were expelled last year compared to 577 in Los Angeles County.

In the 2010-2011 school year, Kern reported more than 2,570 expulsions.

The Center and KQED Public Radio in San Francisco reported last year on expelled Kern students who were adrift because they were assigned to alternative schools so far away away — up to 40 miles — that their farmworker parents were unable to drive them there.

One student, 13, was isolated at home on independent study except for the one day a week his mother could drive him to school. Despite this arrangement, the alternative school collected full funding as if the boy was on an alternative campus every day; hundreds of other independent study students were subject to similar funding arrangements.  

Additional expelled Kern students were effectively forced to drop out because their farmworker parents could not do their field jobs and drive children to distant alternative campuses. One girl’s parents sent her to a rural Mexican school for several months because her alternative school in Kern was 20 miles away.

After media exposure and pressure from local community activists, the teens who had dropped out were admitted back into their home high school.

When your child's lunch is repossessed - and other communication failures that require a little civic hacking

From The Sunlight Foundation, blog post by Emily Shaw.  For the full story go here.

This week a Salt Lake City elementary school made nationwide news when several dozen children who were given a school lunch were then humiliated by having it taken away and thrown in the garbage. The problem was not with the food or the kids. From the school administrator's perspective, it was the necessary response to those children's parents’ failure to maintain their lunch accounts.
And failure there most unquestionably was. The event represented a failure of management since the effort to alert parents about accounts was late and not fully successful. It represented a failure of policy since it’s doubtful that the cost of subsidizing a few lunches outweighs the cost of having hungry children in school. Finally, it represented a very serious failure of basic human empathy because what kind of person doesn’t recognize the shame and waste involved with publicly taking and throwing away children’s lunches?
While the specific outcomes in this case are uncertain, it happens to point to a pervasive problem across the U.S. education system. The nation’s 12,880 school districts have yet to collectively figure out a successful method for regular all-parent communication. In a period with so much change and year-to-year difference across curricula, learning interventions and software, there is really quite a bit of material for two-way communication and yet regular parent communication still often happens through notes in backpacks. Despite the need for good communication, less than half of those surveyed about their experiences with traditional public schools report being “very satisfied” with the way their school communicates with parents.
This area is a ripe one for civic hacking: the creative use of technology to solve civic problems. Volunteer groups like Code for America brigades work to find ways to use technology to — among other things — solve problems of communication between government and hard to reach populations. Code for America in San Mateo, Calif., worked specifically on the problem of improving coordination among food safety net providers and the people they serve.

CHILD WELFARE: Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel

Read the GAO Report at this link.

.@mcpssuper WTOP: Feds urged to better track sex abuse in schools

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal agencies aren't doing enough to track incidents of sexual abuse committed by school personnel and should better educate districts and states about how to handle such cases, congressional investigators say.
While the breadth of the problem is unclear, the Government Accountability Office noted there have been numerous media reports of such cases and referenced a 2004 Education Department report that estimated nearly 10 percent of students are victims of sexual abuse by school personnel sometime during their school career.
One of the most high-profile sexual abuse cases was in Los Angeles, where a once-respected teacher was sentenced in November to 25 years in prison after entering the legal equivalent of guilty pleas to 23 counts of committing lewd acts on children...

...Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who requested the GAO review, said the issue is often "treated as something that isn't discussed," but schools have a legal duty to keep students safe from such abuse and that includes a responsibility to ensure such cases don't happen. He's seeking congressional hearings on the issue.
"We know that it is a very real and serious problem and it's fairly prevalent throughout the nation's schools, in different degrees," said Miller, the minority leader of the House Education and Workforce Committee...

For more on this issue see the Parents' Coalition listing of MCPS teachers, staff and substitutes arrested at this link

Charles County BOE discloses settlement amount

The Charles County Board of Education paid $225,000 in settlement of a former office assistant’s claim that the board transferred, demoted and left her no choice but to quit after she complained of being groped and sexually harassed by her boss.
The settlement with Stephanie Rosa was reported Dec. 17 but the school system declined to disclose the amount at the time. The Daily Record filed a request for the amount under the Maryland Public Information Act, citing the use of public funds, and counsel for the school system responded by email dated Jan. 17.
The school board admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, which also covers Rosa’s claims against her former boss, Patrick A. Tague. Rosa agreed to be ineligible for future employment with the board under the settlement.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Breaking News: IG Confirms MCPS Can Spend Without Documentation, Without Bids, Without Competition

How to spend $20 MILLION+ of taxpayer dollars:

Step 1:  Take a trip to London and a trip to Florida and a trip to Texas and speak in Washington, D.C. for 1 vendor

Step 2:  Pick that vendor's product as the "technology standard" (no documentation required)

Step 3:  Write check to vendor for $20 MILLION+

Step 4:  Do not take any competitive bids, do not compare products, do not shop.

According to the Montgomery County Inspector General (IG) the above MCPS procedure for procurement is in compliance with Maryland law.

The IG does say:
..."However, we did notify MCPS that lack of documentation supporting a standard may be subject to challenges by stakeholders and competing vendors, and could even present appearances of improper financial relationships."...

100 Pipes Have Burst in MCPS in Last 3 Weeks

We learn this fact from the MCPS Board of Education meeting on January 28, 2014 (Agenda Item 2.5:  minute 9 of Chapter 8 video at link).

Broken pipes means water in buildings. What is MCPS doing about clean up? Mold remediation?  

Residents want answers about a proposal to put a 180-foot cell tower near Carderock Springs Elementary School.

...Residents have been concerned that the tower, which would be built on state property, is too close to Carderock Springs Elementary School. In a September meeting, residents expressed fears of having a tower that emitted electromagnetic radiation or electromagnetic fields so close to the school, a concern that was dismissed out-of-hand by officials at the meeting...

A disregard for basic traffic laws during drop off and pick up times is also being observed among both student and parent drivers on a regular basis.

Dear Parents and Students of Winston Churchill High School,
Unsafe pedestrian habits amongst teenagers are becoming a growing factor in pedestrian collisions across the county. The Safe Kids Worldwide report found one in five high school students were distracted when they crossed the street. Young people at Churchill have been seen to cross in the middle of streets instead of using intersections, text or wear headphones while crossing busy streets and not look for traffic before crossing streets and parking areas.  A disregard for basic traffic laws during drop off and pick up times is also being observed among both student and parent drivers on a regular basis.  In particular, some cars are blocking the flow of traffic by stopping to drop off students and we have seen a big increase in the number of illegal u-turns.  As second semester begins, we are requesting your help in maintaining a safe environment for our students.
Starting with this initial notification of the problems faced every day at Churchill, our Pedestrian Safety Initiative begins. 
January 27-31, 2014. - Signage will be posted around the campus.  They will be gentle reminders of infractions that will be closely monitored in the near future. 
February 3 -7, 2014. - Churchill will partner with Montgomery County Police in our Safety Initiative.  The police will be present on our grounds and will issue tickets for violations.
After February 7, 2014
·         Students and parents will continue to observe the laws of safety and monitor themselves and others to maintain the safe environment expected at Churchill. 
·         Department of Transportation will install marked crosswalks on Victory Lane and Greenlane Drive. Curb extensions, ADA compliant ramps, and appropriate signage will also be installed.
·         Additional police presence will be requested as needed.

What can walkers do?
·         Cross the street only at marked crosswalks and intersections.
·         When crossing the street, look left, right, left, and over their shoulders for turning vehicles.
·         Pay special attention in the parking lots and the bus loop – many times drivers are looking for parking and do not see the many students crossing and walking through the parking lots.
·         Begin crossing the street on the "walk" signal.
·         Stay visible after dark.  Wear white or reflective bands on clothing.
·         Make eye contact with drivers before crossing.
·         Stop texting, stop talking, and remove earphones. Put your cell phone in your pocket.

What can drivers do?
·         Stop for pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections – it’s the law! A pedestrian is in the crosswalk when their foot is placed on the painted roadway. If a car driving in front of you stops for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, you need to stop as well.
·         Crosswalks exist at all intersections, even if the crosswalk is unmarked.
·         Make sure you are not impeding the flow of traffic by stopping in the street to load and unload passengers.  Please use the drop off loop on the Victory Lane side of the building.
·         Slow down, pay attention and obey the posted speed limit.
·         Always look out for pedestrians and cyclists, especially before turning at a green light or making a “right on red” or “left on green.”
·         Stay alert and slow down, particularly in residential areas, school zones and commercial areas. Young people are more vulnerable because they have not yet developed the ability to judge speed and distance.

We depend on you to help keep all students safe. Please feel free to contact me with your questions, comments or concerns.  Thank you for your cooperation.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office - Prosecution Units

Montgomery County State's Attorneys Office - Prosecution Units

Special Prosecution Unit

The Special Prosecution Unit investigates and prosecutes a variety of crimes dealing with economic loss.   These crimes include:  violations of fiduciary responsibilities (misappropriation of funds), financial exploitation of the elderly, theft/embezzlement by employees, attorney misconduct (including unauthorized practice of law), fraud schemes involving investments, mortgages, identify theft, and internet scams, and matters dealing with misconduct in office by public officials.   The unit also reviews all incidents involving the use of deadly force by a police officer in the line of duty.  The unit manages a Senior Financial Exploitation Prevention Initiative designed to focus on the protection of seniors from financial exploitation.

Records show no fence violations for Gaithersburg pond where 10-year-old boy drowned

Twenty inspections done from September 2012 to January 2014
From The Gazette, reporter Jenn Davis

A developer that owns a pond where a 10-year-old recently drowned has been in compliance with regulations on required safety fencing, according to city of Gaithersburg records obtained by The Gazette.

The pond, off Diamondback Drive, is in the Crown development’s Neighborhood One, which is owned by Westbrook Acquisitions LLC.

None of the 20 previous inspections of the sediment and grading in the Crown neighborhood — from Sept. 20, 2012, to Jan. 7, 2014 — show a violation for a safety fence around pond 1, the site of the drowning, according to John Schlichting, Gaithersburg’s director of planning and code administration.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service officials have said that when D’Angelo Jayvon McMullen of Rockville fell through the ice on the pond on Jan. 13 and died, there was only partial fencing.


Schlicting said that since no violations pertaining to the safety fence were recorded in any of the inspections, it is assumed that city inspectors found the fence to be present and up to city code requirements during each of their visits.

Even though the forms show places where inspectors can indicate specific findings about safety fencing, those sections are blank on the records obtained by The Gazette.

In response to requests by The Gazette about when the fencing was inspected, the city provided records that do not clearly show what passed inspection and when.

To read the full story go here.

Montgomery County Public Schools will open two hours late today Jan 29th

EMERGENCY MESSAGE: 1/29/2014 at 4:35 AM

Montgomery County Public Schools will open two hours late today due to emergency weather conditions. Bus service will be provided on a two-hour-delayed schedule. Morning prekindergarten, morning half-day Head Start, other morning half-day programs and field trips are canceled. Other activities and programs that begin at 10:30 a.m. or earlier are canceled. Administrative offices are open on time. Day care programs in school buildings will remain open as scheduled.


Montgomery County Public Schools abrirán dos horas más tarde hoy debido a las condiciones de emergencia por tiempo inclemente. Los autobuses escolares funcionarán en un horario de dos horas de retraso. Las clases de la mañana de pre-kindergarten, Head Start de media jornada por la mañana y demás programas de media jornada por la mañana y excursiones quedan cancelados. Otras actividades y programas que comienzan antes de las 10:30 a.m. también quedan cancelados. Las oficinas administrativas abrirán en su horario habitual. Los programas de guardería infantil que operan en edificios escolares permanecerán abiertos según su horario programado.

WPost: Maryland approves new school discipline regulations

Maryland education leaders approved the most sweeping changes in decades to state discipline policies Tuesday morning, culminating a four-year effort intended to reform approaches to student punishment, increase time in school and end racial disparities in suspensions.
The Maryland State Board of Education’s action — approved in a 10-0 vote with one abstention and one member absent — comes at a time when school officials nationally are reconsidering their disciplinary measures. Three weeks ago, Obama administration officials called for a broad rethinking of student discipline and issued the first set of federal discipline guidelines for the nation’s schools...

Why Sqelling is Imporkant (Why Spelling is Important)

As a parent with a son in the 5th grade, my standards for what he should be learning in school are fairly high. But I didn’t realize how high until this week.

He brought home his school work with a fair number of words on one of his assignments was misspelled. What surprised me was that his paper was marked by his teacher with a smiley face – the universal symbol for all is well.

Well - all was definitely NOT well. The spelling errors were not called out by his teacher. So I sat down, marked what was wrong then had my son correct them. His comment to me was that if his teacher didn’t care then why was I giving him a hard time? I told him that this was what his teacher SHOULD have done, and what she should do for any student who passes through her classroom.

Boys in particular, traditionally are less engaged when it comes to reading and writing, with some finding it more difficult than others. Having students at the 5th grade level be required to 1) write in cursive; 2) spell correctly; 3) increase their vocabulary is basic education. Anything less is just basic incompetence and honestly, malpractice. (Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually charge teachers with malpractice? That would get their attention.)

In a meeting with his teachers, I was told that the focus in on the concepts being taught in the classroom, with secondary focus on spelling. They want to know that the students can get their thoughts down on paper. I told her that having kids spew concepts without any attention to detail like spelling is horrifying to me. (And yes, I used the word, “horrifying”.)

When I asked how a child was expected to read and understand what they are reading, when they can’t spell well, I was told there was no evidence that one impacted the other. 

As a journalist and editor – a person who has made wordcraft a profession, I find this disturbing. So the county’s public elementary school children are no longer being held to a standard of excellence? Being able to spell doesn’t’ matter?

A child who does not have the ability to spell will be unable to function in a greater society. As late as the 1950s, when a person was unable to spell or write his own name, he would “make his mark” with an “x.” Is this where we are headed?

In an article “Would You Employ Someone with Poor Spelling or Grammar” posted by Jason Elsom on,  he states that the “chief executive of the National Governors Association has told the Independent that some of the top schools in the UK have received high-level job applications containing mistakes of spelling and grammar.” 

I have personally pitched resumes with spelling or grammar mistakes and have deleted emails from prospective intern or job candidates who have demonstrated lazy English skills. It’s a nonstarter for me, as it should be for any employer. 

While schools and teachers are saddled with this arcane Common Core curriculum, room remains for teachers and principals to incorporate the basics.  Anything less is just lazy teaching. At the very least our kids should leave school knowing how to spell a word correctly.

Apparently the concept isn’t particularly new. A colleague mentioned that in the late 1990s, the American Institutes for Research contracted to design high school exit exams in English, Math and Social Studies for the Philadelphia public schools. On the English exam, the teachers did not want to hold the students accountable for spelling or grammar errors in the test scoring. So the lackadaisical attitude among teachers has been around for a while. To Philadelphia’s credit, they never used the tests. 

My son’s teachers agreed to start being more aware of spelling issues and it also will fall to me to be sure that is backed up with action. In fact, the homework email on Thursday, read “Please remind your child that quality work is expected and neatness and accuracy is required.  Proofread for proper spelling/grammar/punctuation/capitalization.  All assignments should be titled.” 

It’s a start, I guess.

Here is the thing: Leadership is borne of people who toss the book out the window and move instead to do what’s right.

If top MCPS administrators refuse to forward that message, then perhaps a few brave ones in the ranks will.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MCPS #14 in State on Graduation Rate

2013 Carroll 94.41 2146
2013 Queen Anne's 93.49 531
2013 Frederick 93.31 3014
2013 Howard 93.25 4061
2013 Garrett 92.57 299
2013 Calvert 91.75 1313
2013 Saint Mary's 91.5 1131
2013 Washington 91.45 1497
2013 Talbot 91.21 332
2013 Worcester 90.86 477
2013 Allegany 90.09 609
2013 Charles 89.79 2066
2013 Harford 89.52 2724
2013 Montgomery 88.34 9970
2013 Kent 88 154
2013 Cecil 86.69 1036
2013 Baltimore County 86.3 6940
2013 Anne Arundel 85.57 5006
2013 All Public Schools 84.97 56152
2013 Caroline 84.15 345
2013 Dorchester 83.81 264
2013 Wicomico 81.98 805
2013 Somerset 77 164
2013 Prince George's 74.12 7167
2013 Baltimore City 68.5 4101

4-year adjusted cohort

Just Released: See the Gaps for Weast's Kids - MCPS Graduation Rates for 2013

Here's are graduation rates for "Jerry's kids".  These are the kids that started with Superintendent Jerry Weast when he started as superintendent.  

Remember, Superintendent Jerry Weast's legacy on the conference circuit is that he closed the achievement gap in Montgomery County Public Schools. 
Did he really do that? Take a look...

Montgomery County Councilmembers Would Not Want This Applicant on Education Committee!

Listen to what this applicant for the District 5, Montgomery County Council seat has to say about County budget issues.  He is being interviewed to replace Valerie Ervin until the next election. Ervin's replacement will represent District 5 and have a seat on the Council's Education Committee.

Councilmembers were intrigued by this candidate's comments.
That's a flag that he will absolutely not be considered for the position!  
No new ideas or thoughts for the District 5/Education Committee Council applicant!  

Why Motive Doesn’t Matter in the Columbia Mall Shooting

Three things are known for sure in the tragic shooting at the Columbia Mall shopping center on Saturday.

First, three people are dead: Two victims - Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md., and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Mount Airy, Md. -  of a senseless act and the shooter. 

Second, the shooter, now identified as Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of College Park, Md., attended James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md.

And finally, as is the case in many of these types of events, there is no motive.

The narrative is the same. Aguilar was a quiet kid who didn’t show any outward signs that he might become violent. His mother reported him missing when he didn’t come home and was bereft when she discovered that he had been identified as the shooter.

Something was going on behind those quiet eyes as he worked as a manager in a Dunkin Donuts, as he applied to Montgomery College, as he walked into that mall with the intent to kill. But he’s gone and the motive with him. Thing is, the motive doesn’t matter. The damage is done.

Montgomery County Public Schools quietly admitted that Aguilar was a former student. So did MCPS fail this kid somehow? Perhaps but, again, we will never know. Can MCPS help make sure that another teen-ager isn’t so disaffected that they turn to mayhem as an answer? Yes. Will MCPS do that? No.

MCPS in just the last year has proven time and again that the students are a byproduct of its mission to rake in as much cash from the state and federal officials as possible. The Rock Terrace debacle is a good measure of that as its teachers set up bank accounts for students – something that in the real world would be considered identify theft at best.  Then there’s the fact that a mother and father stood alone at a press conference and wept after a Montgomery County teacher fled the country after sexually abusing her disabled child – and MCPS stood quiet.

MCPS works doubly hard not to support the parents and openly and publicly dismisses the students they are charged with educating. It’s no wonder Aguilar likely didn’t feel like he was part of a community. 

MCPS would distance itself and make the argument that Aguilar lived in Prince George's County at the time the incident occurred and hence, the teen-ager was of no interest to them. But at one time, he was one of us.  He was a county kid.

While the majority of MCPS parents work hard to ensure their children have a moral compass, sense of compassion and love of God (yes, I said it, God) and country, and responsibility to their community, MCPS does its best to beat any sense of those virtues out of them. It fails to teach by example. 

Let's just take the game of Assassin that was a school-wide activity at Montgomery Blair High School with 400 students pretending to target, stalk and kill classmates in an annual game.  School officials purposefully decided not to interfere with the game. Administrators turned a blind eye. I can imagine that anyone who was in Columbia Mall on Saturday would not think this type of training drill was funny.

Which brings me once again to Josh Starr, failed leader at best who has had one foot out of the door. He shows up to events uninterested and put upon that engaging with students and parents is part of his job. He wanted to be the New York City schools chancellor but even they decided that he didn’t’ bring enough to the table to warrant a seat at theirs. So he’s stuck at ours, choking down his daily duties and pushing our kids to underperform so they can head off to a community college that puts more dollars into the county education system. No progressive or forward thinking here.
So the candles are lit for the vigils, the tears will be shed and the hand wringing will ensue. But
instead of asking why did a county kid become a shooter, why not ask what the county can do to make sure none of our other kids take the same path. Because as much as we don’t want to admit it, another one is out there percolating below the surface, and who will get to that child in time? Not Josh Starr. He’ll be at a birthday party with a $100 cake, ignoring it all.