The completion of the Maryland Department of Social Services investigation into the death of a Central Special School student, which concluded his death likely involved child neglect, triggers reviews for several other agencies.
The school system has started an internal review that, once complete, the Anne Arundel Board of Education will review, said school board president Michelle Corkadel. The school system’s review is ongoing into 17-year-old Bowen Levy’s death after he choked on a glove at school in November.
DSS also notified the Maryland State Department of Education of the completion of its investigation and “indicated finding of child neglect,” meaning it is more likely than not that someone was not providing the child with proper care and attention. MSDE officials said they are not currently investigating and declined to comment further.
The county school board will wait to review the investigation until the school system has finished conducting an internal review of the incident to “maintain the highest level of independence and due process,” Corkadel said.
“If you want the board to independently review the comprehensive findings, you would not put the grand jury together,” Corkadel said though she acknowledged that “it is frustrating and patience is easier said than done.”
The school system has not provided a clear timeline for its investigation but will look into the school district’s policies, regulations and protocols, said Bob Mosier, school system spokesman.
The findings of the investigation will be made public “to the extent that there are not privacy issues involved,” he said.
Though the agency found neglect, it is not criminal neglect, said police spokeswoman Sgt. Jackie Davis.
An education managing attorney of Disability Rights Maryland, an agency that provides legal services and training and also conducts investigations into abuse and neglect, called the conclusion of the Social Services investigation unusual.
Leslie Margolis said that she can recall when the agency “has been notified of situations that have occurred in a school setting, abuse or neglect has been ruled out,” she said in reference to incidents involving restraint, seclusion or unexplained injuries.
The agency is mandated to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and has conducted independent investigations of school systems as an oversight authority.
“We are coming in as an independent organization with this authority to investigate when there has been abuse or neglect with someone with disabilities,” she said.
“I would hope this prompts serious soul searching in Anne Arundel County schools,” Margolis said. “I would hope that Anne Arundel County would undertake a pretty significant investigation on what happened here and ensure every child with disabilities in Anne Arundel County with an IEP is getting the services that are on the IEP."
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Bowen’s family has said that in his individual education plan, one that outlines specific services or resources for children with disabilities, called for one-on-one supervision while he attended Central Special.
Despite this, the school was unable to provide an aide and told the Levy family that there would be a collection of supervisors in and out of the classroom, Bryan Levy said. Since the death of his son in November, Bryan Levy has urged the school system to answer questions on issues like staffing numbers within special education and vacancies.
“If their real desire was to make this right and make this as good as they could for everyone in the system, they would communicate openly and honestly about their shortcomings,” Levy said about the recently approved budget to increase staff and resources at specialty sites like Central Special.
“Does that mean, right now, there aren’t enough teachers and aides to keep your kids safe?" he said. "If that’s the case, because it was for Bowen, how can they allow right now those positions to not be filled?”
If the school system’s budget is approved, it would provide for nine special education teachers, 12 special education teacher assistants and 11 permanent substitutes to specialty sites at the Ruth Parker Eason, Marley Glen and Central Special schools. Margolis said it will take more than hiring but to also offer training opportunities.
“What training is provided? How are they employing them? Are staff connected to the IEPs of the students,” she asked. “People have the right initials after their names but that doesn’t mean they understand the needs of the children they are assigned to work with.”