People who volunteer regularly in Montgomery County Public Schools this year will be required to take online training designed to teach them to spot child abuse and neglect.
“The more people we have who know what the signs are, the better off the community is as a whole,” MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said Monday. More than 1,400 volunteers have already completed the training, he said.
But a mother, who has worked on child abuse issues within MCPS, said the school system has a ways to go.
“MCPS came a very long way from where it was two years ago,” said Jennifer Alvaro, a licensed clinical social worker and a certified sex offender treatment provider. “But there’s no transparency in what is going on.” Gaps still exist in how the school system protects children from abusers, and because those gaps exist, kids are still at risk, Alvaro said.
For example, the school system isn’t as transparent as it should be. “If people can’t readily find information about what’s been done, then people are limited in how they can keep kids safe,” she said.
Also, a child safety education program for students is available only in a select few elementary school classes; it hasn’t been rolled out at all in the middle and high school grades, Alvaro said.
The school board passed a policy in June 2015 for reporting and preventing child abuse and neglect, Turner said. The move followed several highly publicized cases of students being molested and abused by teachers and other staff. The training is part of the procedures that are putting the policy in place.
Turner said all volunteers who regularly support schools, and those who attend field trips need to complete the training. This training requirement also applies to volunteers who regularly support school-sponsored activities.
Individuals who help out at large or one-time events do not need to complete the training, but they are encouraged to take it, Turner said. These people include guest speakers, volunteers at job and college fairs, and parents or relatives who help out at a celebration or class party.
A similar system was put in place last year for volunteers who took part in the MCPS overnight “Outdoor Education” program, Turner said. In the program, sixth-graders spend three days and two nights receiving environmental lessons at the Lathrop E. Smith Center in Rockville.
The self-paced training, which is available on the school system’s website, could be completed in about an hour, Turner said. MCPS records and tracks progress, so the school system will know who has been trained, he said.
Alvaro said she took the training and thought it was a step in the right direction. But she said the only reason MCPS has addressed the issue is because parents demanded it.
The school system needs to be more transparent on the topic, she said. For example, an employee code of conduct, which is included in the training module, is not where the average person would find it, she said.
As it is early in the process, Turner said the school system hasn’t received any feedback from parents on how the training could inhibit volunteering.
“But we know parents want to make sure their kids are safe,” he said. “Training only gives us additional support and volunteers who are thinking on the issue.”