With the sudden departure of Superintendent Terry Alban, the Frederick County Board of Education is facing a daunting and difficult task in the months ahead.

The board must recruit a new leader for the school system, hampered by getting a later start than the other districts in the state who are also seeking new superintendents. More importantly, it must find someone who is able to clean up the mess in the special education department.

No easy task, we know.

Alban bows out after 11 years at the county schools in the wake of a report by the U.S. Department of Justice two weeks ago that the school system had violated federal law by using excessive seclusion and restraint to control behavior problems among students with disabilities.

Alban signed a settlement agreement with the Justice Department promising that the system will end the use of seclusion, overhaul its restraint practices and train staff on appropriate behavioral interventions for students with disabilities. It must also hire new staff, including a supervisor trained in behavioral issues.

In an interview with the News-Post after the DOJ announced its findings, Alban acknowledged the system needed to make changes, but generally defended the teaching staff and district’s approach to student outbursts. She pointed out that teaching children with disabilities is a very challenging job, and said serious behavioral problems crop up frequently.

“I know it’s an area we need to improve,” Alban said. “We have been working on it. We will continue to work on it.”

Shortly after the DOJ report was announced, the board put Alban on administrative leave. Then, on Monday the board announced that she and the system had mutually agreed to part ways. In a news release, the board referred to Alban’s departure as a retirement. The board voted unanimously to approve the separation agreement.

Brad Young, the new president of the board, said Deputy Superintendent Mike Markoe will serve as interim superintendent through June 2022.

“There’s a time and a place for everything,” Young said after the meeting. “This was the right time for Dr. Alban to pursue other interests.”

Young said nine other Maryland school systems are seeking to hire superintendents now, including Montgomery County.

Montgomery has been reviewing a list of candidates since early this year, Young said, so our county is “already late in the process.” This would be a real challenge for Young and the board, even if the system was not tainted by this special ed scandal.

“There’s not a huge pool of people sitting on that bench, waiting to be superintendents and get beat up all the time,” Young told News-Post reporter Jillian Atelsek.

The DOJ investigation, which covered the last two and a half school years, showed that FCPS used physical restraint and seclusion tactics more than 7,000 times, often in non-emergency situations. Some students with disabilities missed weeks or months of instructional time, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A review of state records by the News-Post showed that Frederick County used seclusion and restraint more than any other Maryland school system of any size during the two years the DOJ was investigating.

Alban was hired in 2011 and her contract was renewed in 2015 and 2019. It had been set to expire in June 2023. Her annual salary was more than $251,000. In 2017, Alban was named Maryland Superintendent of the Year by the Public Schools Superintendents Association of Maryland.

The school board must seek a top-flight candidate in order to restore public confidence in our school system. It will need someone who is well-grounded in special education and in addressing behavioral problems, in order to implement the agreement made with the Justice Department.

Most of all, it will need someone who is a great communicator, both to lead the teachers and staff, and to communicate with parents and the community about the issues the school system is facing and the steps needed to confront those problems.

This is a big job, and the board has to get it right.

(9) comments

Boomer631B

Good luck to the BOE in finding TA replacement...regardless of TA's departure; she will still come under scrutiny as the report is digest within our county. The DOJ is not exactly good at doing reports these days... would like to see how they got their data and if those sources were viable or not. If it is this bad in Frederick; maybe the state should get another inspection to look at all counties including the city of Baltimore to make sure how things are done are legit and are the same in the State of MD. I am sure there are fine candidates out there and were passed over in the past; maybe it is time we go with someone that isn't from a well known system or that has numerous degrees... maybe someone who was recently working in the education trenches and give them a shot.

threecents

Yah, we still don't know why this DoJ review took place, what the expertise of the reviewers was, whether other counties were reviewed, how often do these reviews take place, how do current practices compare to previous practices, why have things changed or not changed, and so on. No doubt there are many people in the know who want to talk about these issues. Have they been told not to speak with the press, and if so, why?

Dwasserba

‘“There’s not a huge pool of people sitting on that bench, waiting to be superintendents and get beat up all the time,’ Young told News-Post reporter Jillian Atelsek.” There is a superintendent who is aware of the problems and motivated to fix them, who already knows our system and is under contract to boot, but she’s turned out to be…human. How many of the pitchfork bearers are parents of the kids in question? Whose opinions could possibly matter more?

Autismmom

I am one of the parents of kids in question.

gabrielshorn2013

And what is your opinion on this situation? Was your child restrained or secluded?

Dwasserba

Our daughter works with autistic children as an intern with a school system in another county. She has said “restraint” can mean “therapeutic holding,” something I learned in a workshop when she was small. We learned later she has mild cerebral palsy and migraines, the signs were there from infancy, alas, unfamiliar to us. We were part of the federal Infants and Toddlers program three years, where an internationally adopted child qualifies by definition, it was beneficial. We sought advice and intervention. The holding technique is a firm quieting hug for an over reacting child. It restrains, protects, comforts. I would not have objected to it being used properly at school if her behavior warranted it. As a teen she volunteered at Rock Creek and never had anything but good words to say. Parents’ opinions interest me because their day to day experiences are not everyone’s. I felt a partnership with people advising us. Our daughter fosters that now. There are people more qualified to comment, I’m just suggesting to respect that, even if they are not coming forward. They don’t owe us anything.

gabrielshorn2013

Absolutely understood, Deb. One of my kids is "on the spectrum", and we were taught that hugs were therapeutic and assuring to him. That's why I asked what the definition of restraint was. Folks automatically assume the worst, when the situation may be completely different than what they envision.

Autismmom

gabrielshorn... Yes, my child was secluded 206 times and restrained 71 times in less than a full school year. My opinion is that FCPS knew there was an investigation. This had been an ongoing issue for years. I provided my documentation to the DOJ.

gabrielshorn2013

The DOJ investigation, which covered the last two and a half school years, showed that FCPS used physical restraint and seclusion tactics more than 7,000 times, often in non-emergency situations.

Are these instances self-reported? Is there a strict definition of these terms? If no, how are they defined in other districts? If not the same, the comparisons are apples and pears, and FCPS could be shooting themselves in the foot for having definitions that are more strict than anyone else. On the other hand, those other districts can also be underreporting.

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