Prince George’s County School bus drivers say it’s taking too long to for the school system to investigate a spike in complaints of alleged misconduct, resulting in employees being forced to languish on paid administrative leave for months at a time.
At least 126 bus drivers have been swept up in what some teachers, support staff and administrators have characterized as a “witch hunt” environment created by new policies meant to protect child safety in the wake of abuse scandals in 2016.
In total, at least 636 school employees have been accused of misconduct and placed on paid administrative leave for periods ranging from days to months, according to school officials.
Employees and union representatives say frequently the allegations are completely false, or minor matters that could be dealt with at the school level.
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“I feel like my hands are tied and I can’t do my job,” said bus driver Jossalyn Ford, who is also a union shop steward for her AFSCME local.
Ford says the large numbers of drivers placed on leave has resulted in a driver shortage, late busses and an environment of intimidation for the remaining drivers.
Some drivers are afraid to engage with children or intervene to stop rowdy behavior for fear of being accused, Ford said.
“It’s impacting safety,” said Shirley Kirkland of AFSCME.
In the wake of the 2016 scandals, a school safety task force determined too many potential misconduct allegations or suspicions were either not being reported, ignored, or hidden.
Reforms have emphasized that the first responsibility of students and staff is to report any potential violation, no matter how minor. A spike in allegations has resulted.
All allegations are investigated by Prince George’s County Child Protective Services before being handed off to the school system’s security office and administrators.
Employees have complained that students use reporting against adults, who have been put on leave for months while there are investigations into issues as minor as alleged incidental contact in a crowded hallway, using the word “asinine”, or a child getting off at a friend’s bus stop.
School officials say they cannot provide information about how many of the hundreds of allegations have resulted in disciplinary action or were determined to be unfounded.