The Montgomery County school board took a step Monday toward improving its policy on how the district addresses child abuse and neglect.
The school board preliminarily approved a draft policy that Andrew Zuckerman, the district’s acting chief operating officer, described as “totally different” than the previous version.
“I think it’s a complete redesign,” Zuckerman said at the board’s Monday meeting.
The public now can comment on the policy draft until June 8. The board is set to take final action in late June.
The updated policy — last revised in 2007 — is significantly longer than the current policy, with new information about how the district will prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect issues.
The policy changes are part of a broader school system effort to improve how it addresses child abuse and neglect. That effort is being carried out amid several recent arrests of people working in county schools who were accused of abuse or inappropriate touching.
A school system employee who formerly worked as a teacher’s aide was arrested Thursday and accused of having sexual contact with a teenage student.
The proposed policy includes new language about improving processes for screening employees, volunteers and contractors; using national and local experts when designing professional development; offering students opportunities to learn about prevention and reporting; and supporting children who may have been victims of abuse or neglect.
The updated policy also describes more in-depth the district’s requirements for reporting and responding to child abuse and neglect. Other added language would describe consequences for abuse or neglect or other related violations, and for those who fail to report suspected abuse or neglect.
More information is included about investigations into possible incidents, including a statement that a district investigation cannot interfere with a police or other external investigation.
Board Vice President Michael Durso questioned Monday if the school system’s human resources staff could take on the work outlined in the policy, given the system’s large and growing workforce and student population.
Zuckerman said human resources management practices are not the only area the policy addresses, and not all of the work falls to human resources. The district is figuring out if its human resources staff is capable of all of the work, he said.
Board member Philip Kauffman asked how the system tracks reports made about an employee for behavior that may seem innocuous once, but is more of a concern if multiple people complain. He wondered who would do the tracking.
Joshua I. Civin, a school system attorney, pointed to draft protocols related to the policy. They say that the district’s human resources office has “confidential investigation files” that track such “potentially inappropriate actions” between students and employees.
Kauffman said after the meeting that it “has to be clear” that someone is responsible for monitoring reports about employees — something he sees in the updated policy.
Board member Rebecca Smondrowski asked if the district has “addressed every possible situation that’s been out there,” referring to past incidents in the school system.
Zuckerman said the district has “all of the bases covered” in the updated policy.
Richard Dangel, president and CEO of Praesidium — a consulting firm that helped update the district’s policy — said at the meeting the school system had done “a marvelous job.”
“We don’t normally see this level of cooperation and collaboration in a community between all the people who need to be involved in this, and yours seems to be extraordinary,” he said.
Jennifer Alvaro — whose past and current work includes education, prevention and treatment related to child abuse — said Tuesday she remains hopeful that the proposed policy would be “extraordinarily helpful” to prevent abuse or to help abuse victims more quickly.
Alvaro is a member of a school system group helping the district improve its rules and procedures around child abuse and neglect.
She said, however, that she sees flaws in the policy and its development. One issue, she said, is she didn’t see the district use an expert familiar with Maryland law around child abuse and neglect. Another issue, she said, is a lack of detail.