Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

July 27, 2013

‘Perfect storm’ at youth centers

First and foremost, we wish to thank our delegation for their strong advocacy and leadership. They are greatly appreciated. (“Delegation wants dismissed juvenile justice teachers rehired,” July 21 Times-News, Page 1A)

This is a very difficult time for the youth centers in general, and 10 highly qualified educators specifically.

In general, the youth centers’ culture and ability to protect the safety and security of its students and staff has spiraled downward at an alarming rate.

For Secretary (of juvenile services Sam) Abed to refute a courageous staff’s letter to Delegate Kelly regarding the frightening condition of the centers by stating it was “misinformation” was not only disrespectful, it was a lie. (“Youth center staffing not a concern, say state officials,” June 25 Times-News, Page 1A)

According to the Office of the Attorney General’s Juvenile Justice Monitoring Report, (April 2013, p. 34), “Combined total incidents involving aggression at the youth centers have increased substantially during the first quarter of 2013 when compared with the same period in 2012.”

In my 17 years serving as principal, the youth centers have experienced only two riots — both in the spring of 2013 under Secretary Abed’s leadership.

His effect on the youth centers has been an unmitigated disaster for staff and more importantly, for the students under his care.

Ironically, prior to Secretary Abed’s appointment by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the youth centers were referred to as the Maryland Model. It is no longer that same program as staff and students are injured at an alarming and unacceptable rate.

Second, regarding our educators, on March 1, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) convened a meeting to state how the impending transfer was going to occur. During the meeting, MSDE produced their new staffing pattern for the youth centers.

It became clear immediately that the MSDE model violates both state and federal education laws. For example, the document lists neither social studies teachers nor science teachers. In fact, MSDE chose to let go all of our highly qualified social studies teachers, terminated the automotive program and the instructor, and reassigned our science teachers to teach life skills!

Other positions and educators soon followed and when it ended, MSDE let go 10/30 highly qualified educators in the youth centers representing 120 years of experience working with adjudicated students.

Third, due to the violation of the personnel regulations that govern the transfer of state positions, we are requesting to be reinstated. However, we strongly support our colleagues recently hired by MSDE. Our reinstatement should not result in their loss of employment.

We understand their commitment to the students and we certainly understand what it means to be working one day and unemployed the next.

Therefore, we propose the following solution: reinstate our 10 educators and retain our colleagues too. Although the youth centers would still be woefully short of the same personnel, facilities and resources provided to our colleagues east of Sideling Mountain, at least we would be closer to their existing staffing pattern.

Without question, we do not want what is right for us to be wrong for those newly hired. Hence, as this issue is resolved we stand with our peers.

In conclusion, when Gov. Robert Ehrlich and the General Assembly initiated the transfer of Maryland Department of Juvenile schools to MSDE, it was done with the greatest intentions.

I believe the law was never intended to dismantle effective programs. However, that’s exactly what has happened to the Youth Centers — Maryland’s Model.

The transfer of DJS schools to MSDE and Secretary Abed’s ineffective punitive model of care have resulted in the perfect storm for the youth yenters.

As we fight to be reinstated, we hope our efforts will result in a safer and more secure program that finds itself once again offering state and nationally recognized programming. Thank you for your support.

Mike Lewis

Frostburg

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