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To prevent further abuse of young students, the local school district says it is providing more training for teachers and assistants, stepping up its monitoring of their actions and updating policies and procedures to specifically prohibit corporal punishment, emotional abuse and tying up children to restrict their movement.

Jefferson County Public Schools has issued a plan of corrective action in response to a report by the Administration of Family and Children, which had uncovered within JCPS’ early childhood education program a culture of child abuse and neglect.

The report had listed 13 incidents of abuse in just over seven months beginning around Halloween 2016, two incidents in which young children were left unsupervised and seven incidents in which the district failed to notify authorities on a timely basis. The ACF is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and administers the Office of Head Start.

The ACF told Insider via email that officials from the Office of Head Start would meet with JCPS Wednesday and Thursday “for in-person meetings and training.

“Once the meetings and training are complete, OHS will be able to provide feedback to JCPS on next steps, as appropriate,” the agency said.

Ann Linehan

Ann Linehan, acting director of the Office of Head Start, had told JCPS officials that reading the reports about children being slapped, pushed, shoved, yelled at and thrown on the floor made her sick. She called the problem a “systemic failure of management.”

The local district’s early childhood education program serves about 3,600 students, including about 1,500 in Head Start and Early Head Start programs, and employs about 900, about 600 of whom are paid through $15 million in federal funds, with the remainder coming from state and local funds and tuition. The district is providing early childhood instruction in 223 classrooms in 61 locations.

The ACF told Insider that JCPS’ Head Start program was the only one among 1,600 nationwide that was facing possibly emergency suspension.

JCPS officials, including Acting Superintendent Marty Pollio, who was appointed in May, said that he and other administrators were making sure that employees understood that abuse would not be tolerated.

As a result of incidents described in the report, nine staff members have been fired or are no longer with the district, JCPS said. That includes retirements and resignations. Three other employees received disciplinary reprimands that involved training to remediate their unacceptable behavior. District investigations of two incidents are still pending, and six were found to be unsubstantiated.

Policies, training, monitoring

The district’s corrective plan covers three deficiencies — standards of conduct, active supervision and reporting systems — and the district wrote that for each deficiency it would update its policies and procedures and step up its communication and training. The district also outlined how it would implement and monitor the changes.

In the 37-page plan, JCPS listed overarching goals — JCPS “will prioritize and enhance ongoing training” — and specific steps required from classroom staffers, including the frequency with which they have to check diapers for wetness or feces (at least once per hour), that they “must not use or withhold food as a punishment or reward” and that they “must not use any form of emotional abuse, including public or private humiliation, rejecting, terrorizing, extended ignoring, or corrupting a child.”

JCPS also said that it would revise policies and procedures “to explicitly prohibit the use of corporal punishment; employment of methods of discipline that use isolation; the binding or tying of a child to restrict movement or tape a child’s mouth; (and) the use of any form of emotional abuse.”

An excerpt from the JCPS plan to correct abuse in its early childhood education program.

The district also said it would use interactive training videos “that check for understanding” for new and existing staff, and that it would revise handbooks “to include the Head Start Standards of Conduct.”

Further, JCPS said that it identified a monitoring tool that district officials would use during walkthroughs, in which they have to confirm that staff complies with rules, including that “Staff utilize calming strategies with students as necessary and staff refrain from utilizing time outs and/or exclusion as punishments.”

JCPS told Insider Monday that its plan “will be a working document and can be modified” as the district and Head Start work together on implementation.

 

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.


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