Prince George’s County’s Lack of Regard for Disabled Students

CW/TW: abuse of disabled students, aversives, blatant ableism, humiliation, torture, child abuse and mistreatment including sexual abuse 

Prince George’s County, Maryland needs a major overhaul in their education system, especially disabled students.  For over two decades, disabled students have been abused and mistreated in the hands of teachers, administrators and other staff, causing physical, psychological and emotional trauma to students, often long-lasting.

Recently, an ex-teachers’ aide at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School in Glenarden, Maryland was sentenced to 100 years in prison for sexually abusing students from the school, including producing child pornography involving the students.  One student is in therapy and has nightmares every night due to the abuse.

And last year, PG County Schools’ Head Start program lost it’s $6.5 million federal grant after repeated abuse of the children in the schools.  In one incident, a child at H. Winship Wheatley Early Childhood Center in Capitol Heights, Maryland had an accident during naptime, and was forced to mop up his own urine.  The teacher took a picture of the child in his urine-soaked clothes while he was mopping and sent the picture to the boy’s mother with the captions, “LOL.  He worked that mop tho.”

In another incident, a teacher and an aide at James Ryder Randall Elementary School Head Start Program in Clinton, Maryland forced their students to hold objects over their heads for long periods of time as punishment.  One of the kids was crying and calling out the teacher’s name, but the teacher told the child to keep holding the object.  And when one of the kids dropped the object, they were told to pick it back up.

The teachers involved in the abuse at both Winship Wheatley and Ryder Randall were fired, but these are not isolated incidents in PG County.  The abuse is systemic.

I went to Winship Wheatley in the 1990s from preschool until the second grade, and in the first grade, that’s when the mistreatment began.  In the first grade, I had a very mean teacher who had very strict rules that we had to follow, or we would be punished and lose privileges.  One time, I appeared to not be paying attention to a movie, and my teacher said that if I didn’t watch the movie, I would be sent to time-out.  I tried my hardest to pay attention to the movie so I wouldn’t be sent to time-out.

Also, the fire alarm went off almost every day, and it was a buzzer, which made everything so much worse because I can’t stand buzzing noises.  One time, the fire alarm went off, and as we were leaving the school building, I had my hands over my ears because the alarm was so painfully loud, and my teacher uncovered my ears and yelled, “Hands down!”

Image description: a drawing that I made a couple years ago. In the drawing is a White woman yelling at a small Black girl, "Hands down!" while the fire alarm is buzzing and the little girl is covering her ears. The woman is my first-grade teacher and the girl is me.

Image description: a drawing that I made a couple years ago. In the drawing is a White woman yelling at a small Black girl, “Hands down!” while the fire alarm is buzzing and the little girl is covering her ears. The woman is my first-grade teacher and the girl is me.

I begged my mother switch me to another school for second grade, but she said that there was nothing that she could do because Winship Wheatley wouldn’t allow it.  I was literally trapped inside that school.

And just as I imagined, the fire alarm went off almost every day in the second grade too.  The principal of Winship Wheatley said that the fire alarm was broken, and that there was nothing she could do about it.  One teacher gave me cotton balls to put in my ears to try and block out the noise—cotton balls.  They didn’t help at all.

I finally graduated from Winship Wheatley after second grade.  I was glad, but then in the third grade, I went to Arrowhead Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and had an extremely difficult time there. Arrowhead is a mainstream elementary school, but, I was placed in a “special wing” program for students who received special education services.  The teachers in that program were highly unqualified, and didn’t know how to help disabled students.  Plus, I was still traumatized from the fire alarms at Winship Wheatley and I didn’t want to go to school because I was worried that the fire alarm was going to go off, so I missed many days of school and had to repeat third grade the next year, but at The Harbour School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, which was an hour away from where I lived.

Special education is horrible, especially in Prince George’s County.  Here, it is absolutely deplorable.  Students should be able to attend schools in their own jurisdiction, regardless of their disability, and not be subject to abuse or trauma.  Students shouldn’t have to attend school in a jurisdiction an hour—or even 30 minutes away from where they live to receive a halfway decent education.

And we need to stop appointing education board members, hiring principals and other school administrators and teachers who obviously don’t care about the children but only want to do things “their way”.  We need to hire educators and administrators who actually care about children and want them to succeed.  And we need to hire more neurodivergent staff members who have been in these situations growing up because they know what it’s like to be mistreated and traumatized, so they won’t do the same things to this generation of students.

And parents need to be more involved in what’s going on with the child at school.  Ask your child how they’re doing.  If your child is non-speaking or has limited speech, watch out for signs that something’s not right: is the child acting more aggressive at home?  Are they coming home crying or screaming?  Do they say that they don’t like school?  Those are definitely red flags, but there are others out there.

Parents should also attend more school conferences, and maybe bring their children along with them too if they’re old enough because children should be able to know what kind of education they’re getting.

I want our next generation have the opportunities to better than I had.