Cumberland Times-News

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July 20, 2013

Delegation wants dismissed juvenile justice teachers rehired

CUMBERLAND — All four members of the District 1 legislative delegation have signed a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state officials requesting that 10 veteran teachers in the juvenile justice system be rehired after they were abruptly dismissed in June.

Delegates Kevin Kelly, Wendell Beitzel and LeRoy Myers Jr. along with Sen. George Edwards have given their support to have a review of the dismissal of the teachers and to the deterioration of the behavior by residents at the youth centers due to program changes.

Western Maryland has four youth centers: Meadow Mountain, Backbone Mountain, Savage Mountain and Green Ridge. All of the centers are in Garrett County except Green Ridge, which is in Allegany County.

“I have watched the youth centers and they have gone down the tubes,” said Dave Simanski, one of the dismissed teachers who had eight years of service with the state.

Another employee removed by the Maryland Department of Education Services included principal Mike Lewis of Frostburg, who had spent 17 years working with troubled youths for the state.

“We were told in March that we were going to have to apply for the jobs that we were already doing,” said Lewis.

The teachers reapplied to continue to work for the state but were all told by early June they would not be retained.

“I was stunned. I’ve always had outstanding reviews,” said Vicki Kaylor, a guidance counselor with nine years of service.

According to Lewis, understaffing and excessive overtime had led to hostile and violent youth behavior, creating a dispirited staff and low morale at the camps.

The day-to-day operation had been made worse by the implementation of new methods of handling discipline at the centers.

“We were asked to use the Challenge Program. It’s reward-based. It’s been a disaster,” said Lewis.

Lewis said they had winning programs and the kids had done well under a program called Positive Peer Culture.

“The kids had to answer to each other. They worked out among themselves,” said Lewis.

Lewis said that the aquaculture and environmental science program was awarded best in business by the corrections-based magazine called Correction Forum.

“I think it (the Challenge Program) is degrading to the youth. It puts the power in the kids’ hands,” said Kaylor.

In addition to O’Malley, the delegation letter was sent to Sam Abed, secretary of juvenile services, and Lillian Lowery, state superintendent of schools.

The letter stated that the teachers, who were once part of an “exemplary” and “renowned” juvenile rehabilitation program, were dismissed in a manor that was “farcical and ludicrous.”

Lewis said the reward-based programs that they had been forced to implement have led to dangerous consequences at the centers.

A riot occurred at Meadow Mountain on April 28 that resulted in four staff members being hospitalized, according to Lewis.

Lewis said in a similar incident April 30 at Backbone Mountain a staff member was struck with a shovel.

He also feels a critical part of the rehabilitation process for troubled youth is to make sure they continue their high school educational credits.

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