The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Division of Education: Where Crime Pays And Integrity is A Crime
Earlier this year, The Center for Public Integrity, along with The Global Integrity Project, gave The Commonwealth of Virginia an “F” and a ranking of 47th nation-wide regarding integrity and ethics within state government operations. These organizations must have had the Department of Correctional Education, now known as The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Division of Education, in mind when they rendered this scathing verdict.
Recently, under a state government restructuring initiative, Governor Bob McDonnell accepted the recommendation to dissolve the Virginia Department of Correctional Education, (DCE), and to merge it with Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice, (DJJ). However, rampant corruption, gross mismanagement of state resources, abuse of employee rights, systematic civil rights violations of students, and extensive cover-up measures by division administrators continues to flourish under the leadership of Director Mark Gooch and Superintendent Jacqueline Nelson. Given her credentials and alleged violations of the DHRM hiring process, it is questionable as to “how” Nelson obtained her position as superintendent in the eyes of many within the agency.
The committee’s recommendation and governor’s approval to dissolve this agency is to be applauded. DCE, or “The Department of Corruption in Education,” as it is referred to by is employees, has a long and sad saga of leaders accused, and in many cases found guilty of, sexual misconduct, financial mismanagement, waste of public monies, exploitation of employees, and violation of the rights of incarcerated students, specifically those with disabilities, with little, if any, accountability. In fact, the record shows that Superintendent Nelson, Assistant Superintendent Friday, Human Resources Manager Robert Gunn, and Director of Special Education Sharon Trimmer, have utilized DCE for their own personal agendas and have repeatedly violated the trust of the taxpayer by grossly mismanaging state resources, which include monies, employees, supplies, benefits, and much more.
DCE’s mission identified its goal as, “to provide quality educational programs that enable incarcerated youth and adults to become responsible, productive, tax-paying members of their communities.” An additional slogan touted throughout DCE literature is “fighting crime through education.” However, because of the misconduct of DCE administrators, one wonders if the underlying message should be rewritten as “promoting crime by denying education.” While other state agencies are aggressively combating the “cradle to prison pipeline” that impacts significant numbers of African-American males within our society, state agencies such as The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice and its Division of Education, appear to be engaging in systematic tactics to enhance and empower the “cradle to prison pipeline” by violating the agency’s own core values, strategies, and mission. In the process, these agency heads have not only destroyed the futures of thousands of students, negatively impacted the well being of their employees, but they have grossly violated the public trust of Virginia’s taxpayers at every level, and clearly undermine the spirit and intent of Governor McDonnell’s Re-Entry Initiative.
Numerous state-initiated investigative reports have surfaced throughout the years in which DCE’s administration has been reported for violating the educational civil rights of incarcerated youth. These young people have systematically been denied access and participation in alternative education programs, GED programs, and SAT testing for College Bound programs. Reports have surfaced that validate the dissolution of alternative education with the subsequent placement of 17 year olds, or “warehousing” them, into the ninth grade by DCE administration. Other reports indicate that DCE’s administration disregard the requests and recommendations of counselors, judges, parents, and parole officers to enroll students in specific educational programs required for their release and re-entry into their communities. DCE’s refusal to address individual student need has resulted in young people being denied early release, being detained past their release date, and being released with few and meaningless high school credits. Working with incarcerated youth requires teachers to work quickly and effectively for the greater good of the students. DCE administration creates waste of time, human resources, and dashes the hopes and dreams of young adults by chaining them to meaningless schedules and coursework that give the illusion of “education” to ensure that the state and federal monies continue to flow into the agency even if a quality educational programs do not.
Both novice and veteran DCE employees claim that the inability of the agency to achieve its mission by delivering a decreasingly poor quality of education, (as reflected through standardized test scores), is a direct result of the DCE agency leadership. DCE administrators have been described as outdated, misinformed, unqualified, unprofessional, inflexible, indifferent, incompetent, and uncaring with regard to agency mission, student population, and employees. As one educator stated, “working for this division is like living the nightmare of a real-life “Cool Hand Luke or Shawshank Redemption” movie. Allegations of corruption, abuse, nepotism, retaliation, fiscal mismanagement, and cover-up permeate the highest levels of administration. Requests to falsify student records, employee time sheets, grades, credits, etc. seem to be the norm despite employee requests for investigation. Those employees who speak up are labeled as disruptive and insubordinate and are often subjected to formal reprimand, retaliation, intimidation, demotion, transfer, and even termination.
Furthermore, DCE administration has also been the subject of numerous investigations by State Employee Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline. Under the shelter of anonymity, employees feel as if there is a venue for complaints and concerns. Anonymous sources have reported that the Division has averaged, at times, up to ten employee calls per week to the state hotline. As a result, administrative threats and retaliation against employees for making the calls have also seen an significant increase. At no time has administration met with employees, provided a forum for exchange of ideas, or otherwise shown interest in employee conflict resolution, mediation, or feedback. Employees voice concerns about the severity of workplace bullying and intimidation that they are facing, as well as the fact that management is currently on a “witch hunt”, trying to identify who has or has not contacted the hotline so that retaliation and intimidation can be initiated.
Assistant Superintendent Belinda Friday advised through agency email that employees will now be punished by being declared as “essential personnel” for engaging in protected activities and exercising their right to contact the hotline and file grievances. She also made it clear that it was because of the actions of a “few” that the entire division was being punished. One can only surmise that her motive was to curtail complaints while reinforcing blind compliance. “Don’t ask; don’t tell” seems to be Ms. Friday’s covert message. Other employees view the division’s building principals and assistant principals as being “henchmen,” blindly obeying orders and hiding behind the excuses of , “I am just doing as I am told,” without question or conscience, even when the directives are immoral and criminal.
As a result of investigations obtained from the State’s Internal Auditor, Tim Sadler, a Freedom of Information Act Request revealed the following:
1) May 13, 2008-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation of Roy Haliburton, Deputy Superintendent of DCE, in which allegations were made that DCE’s administration “has blocked attempts by staff to contact that appropriate authorities in order to voice their concerns.”
2) June 5, 2008-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation of Roy Haliburton, Deputy Superintendent of DCE, in which allegations were made that poor management, unprofessionalism and intimidation of staff members was conducted by Haliburton. As a result of the investigation, corrective action was taken against Haliburton by the Superintendent of DCE.
3) June 18, 2008-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation of Instructional Assistants, who are not certified to teach, but who were assigned to teach English and History classes. DCE Human Resources took action to place certified educators in these positions following the investigation.
4) June 26, 2008-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation involving Deputy Superintendent of DCE, Roy Haliburton and Assistant Superintendent of DCE, Jacqueline Nelson. Both were accused of making poor and unethical management decisions regarding students with special needs, which included denying students due process, denying access to being awarded credits for graduation, and placing students in academic programs for which they were not academically qualified. Haliburton and Nelson were also accused of repeatedly reversing their decisions, “nearly every six months,” with disregard for the placement of students outside compliance of state and federal guidelines. The allegations by DCE employees also indicated that Haliburton and Nelson, “acted unprofessionally toward staff, berated, used bullying tactics, threatened staff, and directed all staff not to send any correspondence outside of DCE without having approval from school administration”. In response to the investigation, it was determined that Haliburton and Nelson acted outside of state and federal guidelines by directing teachers to “funnel” students with special needs into alternative education programs. In order to rectify their actions, an audit was completed with a review of program qualifications to make sure that guidelines were met. The investigation also caused Walter A. MacFarlane, former DCE Superintendent, to send an email to all DCE Principals, Assistant Principals, and DCE Executive Staff, on January 9, 2008, in which he reiterated the existing protocol that DCE employees do not have to go through the chain of command….”
5) July 3, 2008-John A. Spooner, Virginia State Internal Auditor, completed an investigation regarding allegations of misconduct by Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs for DCE. The allegations were that Mr. McGhee used state-owned vehicles to commute to and from work without proper authorization, and that he did not reimburse the State for his commuting miles. Both allegations were found to be valid, and Mr. Spooner recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Mr. McGhee and that he be required to reimburse the state for his actions.
6) August 20, 2008-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation of the decision of DCE senior administration retaining Dr. Lorraine Monroe as a consultant for three years. Costs incurred included a professional fee of $250,000 per year. The purpose was to train the faculty on The Blackboard Configuration Program (BBC) for designing lesson plans. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Dr. Monroe was retained by DCE administration for two years at a price of $275, 400.00. In addition, it was proven that DCE paid to send all of its principals to New York City in order to attend the training by Dr. Monroe. At a later date, the training was provided at each DCE school. This represented a huge waste of taxpayer money. Finally, it was documented that DCE sent all of its assistant principals to New York City the following year in order to attend the same training by Dr. Monroe that was completed by her at each school. The investigation also uncovered the fact that Title I funds, which are federal monies designated for use for school improvements, were used to pay for the BBC program. The investigation also noted that former Assistant Superintendent, Jacqueline Nelson, opted for this program.
7) September 22, 2008-John A. Spooner, State Internal Auditor, investigated allegations that DCE’s administration had compromised the identity of DCE employees who had reported fraud, abuse, and waste, and then participated in an investigation regarding the report. It was determined that a DCE administrator had listed the names of all the employees involved in the investigation in an email and had sent it to each employee’s principal. While this was done to protect employee leave, the end result was a violation in employee anonymity. Many were left to fear agency retaliation.
8) December 2, 2010-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation about a DCE teacher sleeping on the job. In one instance, while asleep in the classroom, a student defecated on the ceiling tile as a prank. The teacher’s behavior was excused due to a doctor’s note diagnosing narcolepsy, despite Standards of Conduct identifying sleeping on the job as a Group Three Offense.
9) February 10, 2010-Seward McGhee, Director of Legal and Internal Affairs, DCE, conducted an investigation about a DCE special ed. teacher who was reported to be playing basketball in the gym rather than teaching assigned classes. Additionally, he was found to be removing special ed. students from academic classes in order to play ball with them under the pretense of building rapport so that he could “reach” them. Amazingly, the investigation by the attorney concluded that the special educator was operating within his job description.
10) October 1, 2009, John Spooner, State Internal Auditor, as a result of reports of unearned salary increases during a state salary freeze, performed an audit of personnel files of DCE’s executive leadership. Hotline complaints also indicated that they were being awarded unearned and undocumented recognition time. The individuals involved were: Belinda Friday, who received eight hours of recognition leave on October 21, 2008 without any supporting documentation; Mr. Wade, who received sixteen hours of recognition leave on July 5, 2007 without any supporting documentation; and Eddie Weeks, who received a five percent increase without the proper documentation, as a result of a lateral role change. The audit concluded that Robert Gunn, the Director of Human Resources for DCE, had “not performed random file audits or adequately monitored the staff responsible for maintaining accurate personnel file information”. Also, Gunn had approved retention bonuses for employees who brought employment offers from outside employers without verifying the validity of the so-called “offers”. The audit also uncovered the fact that Seward McGhee, former Director of Legal and Internal Affairs for DCE, had completed a salary audit on his own position, and deemed it appropriate to change his own pay band to allow for a salary increase during a time when the entire state was under a salary freeze. After this pay action by McGhee was discovered through the audit, Gunn stated that he “was not comfortable with the internal alignment issues created by this move…..therefore, we are reversing the re-allocation, and placing Mr. McGhee back in the role of General Administration Manager II, pay band 6.” As a final recommendation following the audit, Mr. Gunn was sent to “compensation documentation” training.
11) March 2012, Eddie Weeks, an Internal Investigator, discovered that under the leadership of Ms. Nelson and Ms. Friday, the entire agency had serious record keeping errors and lacked any uniform process for accurately calculating students’ transfer grades. Weeks ruled that years of complaints by agency employees were founded and ordered the administration to develop a uniform protocol for calculating transfer grades accurately. To date, the administration has failed to comply with this directive.
12) July 2012, after years of complaints, grievances, and hotline calls regarding violations of the Fair Labor Standard Law by DCE administration regarding record keeping, time tracking, leave, compensatory time, and overtime for both exempt and non-exempt employees. A source within the division’s administration shared that Nelson and Friday were severely reprimanded for their ongoing violations of employment laws.
Unfortunately, allegations continue indicating that Jacqueline Nelson and Belinda Friday have violated state and federal guidelines regarding the GED program. Recent incidents of denying qualified students the opportunity to participate in the GED testing, continual alteration of eligibility requirements, and denial of special education accommodations for GED testing, has caused grave concern to educators, parents, counselors, and students within the agency. Attempts by Ms. Nelson and Ms. Sharon Trimmer, Special Education Director, to thwart the GED testing program oppose the intent of Governor McDonnell’s Re-entry Initiative for incarcerated youth. There continue to be unanswered questions about the “warehousing” of 17 year olds in the 9th grade with refusal to allow these students to pursue a GED when they are more than willing and capable. During one meeting, in October 2011, when Nelson was confronted about the “warehousing” of students, she responded by stating that students can either “drop-out” of school or get their education when they are released.
Additional reports of professional misconduct include allegations that Nelson directed an entire group of DCE employees to alter a conference program for the annual VACE conference. Eye witnesses reported that Nelson directed the conference attendees to cross out all workshops that she was scheduled to facilitate, and to advise their peers that they were required to attend only one of the conference sessions, being conducted by someone else in the morning and afternoon. It was reported that Nelson advised the group that the workshops were originally listed in the program to justify the use of federal Title I monies for the conference. This represents another possible instance of fiscal misconduct.
Other former DCE employees document the verbally abusive, professionally degrading, illogical, preferential, and unpredictable decision-making of Nelson when managing the academic programs of the agency. Nelson was previously investigated by the Virginia State Auditor for mismanagement regarding student programs due to her frequent changing of program requirements, inconsistency in establishing student eligibility regulations, and violation of the civil rights of students with disabilities. One DCE administrator characterized Nelson’s management style as a “dictatorship of sabotage” due to the fact that she has a constant pattern of imposing her baseless unilateral decisions upon students, parents, and educators that create obstacles to high school graduation, and passing scores on state standardized test scores. “Both, GED and SOL test scores have plummeted, crashed, and burned under her leadership,” one veteran administrator commented. They went on to state that Nelson made it clear that “these students are incarcerated, they can drop out or get an education on the street.” The administrator indicated that they had to remind Nelson that the students within DJJ have the right to an education just like any other student.
Through the Employment Dispute and Resolution agency, EDR, there have been continuing efforts to hold DCE’s administration accountable for violations of agency, state, and federal law. EDR states that its vision is to “help foster a positive, productive workplace, where conflict is addressed constructively, at the lowest level and earliest opportunity, allowing employees to focus on service excellence, and to be known as a valued and impartial resource by employees and agencies throughout the state, who are informed of EDR’s services and comfortable accessing them.” EDR lists as its core values equity, neutrality, confidentiality, integrity, communication, excellence, respect, diversity, accountability, and stewardship. On their webpage, they also commit to promoting a positive work environment, promoting equity and neutrality, maintaining confidentiality of sensitive information and employee personal data, avoiding conflicts of interests, disallowing the giving or receipt of illegal gifts, favors, or kickbacks, and reporting suspected wrongful conduct promptly.
Conversely, EDR’s Director, Claudia Farr, has what appears to be a history of showing partiality in favor of agencies. There are documented incidents of Farr’s grievance rulings that directly contradict the DHRM Standards of Conduct. Because of her repeated inconsistent and pro-agency biased rulings, one can only assume that Director Farr is either unfamiliar with EDR’s Code of Ethics or simply refuses to comply with them.
In recent rulings, Farr reprimanded a state employee who requested EDR compliance rulings. She accused the employee of making meritless requests that were wasting the agency’s resources, even though her view directly contradicted the recommendation of her own hearing officer, Carl Schmidt. In another instance, Farr indicated that EDR was in support of DCE’s decision to file a false report with Attorney Michael Parsons, of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, against an employee. The report threatened criminal prosecution against a vocal educator, who refused to cover up the civil rights violations of students. The teacher was referred for investigation for placing the names of students on a project that was authorized by the building administrator.
In yet another ruling, Farr contradicted her own agency’s core values again when she incorrectly determined that DCE administration was not operating in a retaliatory and discriminatory manner for singling out one teacher for allegedly violating student confidentiality during a student project. The project involved a group of teachers and was approved by supervisors. Only one employee was targeted for reprimand.
In a more recent incident, Farr’s ruling upheld DCE’s decision to refuse to refer a threatening memo from DCE’s administration to an employee for a grievance hearing under the claim of ongoing retaliation by the agency. By blocking the employee from appealing her decision with the Circuit Court, Farr violated EDR’s grievance policy and the employee’s due process rights under the system. In response to her action, on February 15, 2012, Judge Markow, of the Richmond Circuit Court, laughed out loud and directed the employee to “do whatever needs to be done to get that grievance before a court.” Farr’s actions of bias, failure to promote accountability, and demonstrations of conflict of interests were reported her superior, Virginia’s Secretary of Administration, Lisa Hicks-Thomas. Farr’s collective rulings affirm Virginia’s “F” rating for failing to follow their own ethics policies.
The ongoing retaliatory and unethical actions of DCE’s administration have also been reported to Attorney Michael Parsons of Virginia Attorney General’s Office, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Secretary of Public Safety Marla Graff Decker, Chief of Staff Martin Kent, in addition to the Governor McDonnell’s office. Requests to them for meetings and investigations to address the horrific levels of workplace harassment, bullying, and abuse went unanswered.
Reports of the ongoing misconduct, intimidation, bullying, and other violations of agency, state, and federal laws have also been reported to Robert Gunn, DCE’s Director of Human Resources. Gunn himself was investigated by Virginia’s State Auditor. The complaints were “founded” and action was taken against Gunn for incorrectly awarding thousands of dollars in unauthorized raises and undocumented recognition leave to DCE’s highest level administrators. Gunn continues to stonewall employee complaints about equal pay, lack of compensation for overtime, and fostering and falsification of state time records. Gunn also engaged in influence peddling with EDR and DHRM officials to circumvent grievance guidelines. In addition to working behind the scenes, he also sent unauthorized and inappropriate correspondence to EDR in an attempt to discredit the reputation of employees engaged in the grievance process, and rescind the agency’s authorization to hold the hearing. Since the consolidation, Linda Jackson-Shaw is the designated Human Resources Director with Gunn serving as the assistant. Despite receiving numerous complaints regarding workplace bullying, harassment, and intimidation; and having agreed to investigate the allegations; Jackson-Shaw has done very little to address the issue as well; often making commitments to follow-up, but failing to do so.
In response to restructuring measures, DCE merged with the Department of Juvenile Justice on July 1. Most DCE employees welcomed the change in leadership. Many had been frustrated and demotivated by the oppressive, intimidating, and aggressive management style of Superintendent Nelson. While Nelson is a woman of color, she fails to honor concepts of civil rights, justice, and even basic professional workplace courtesies. Instead, Nelson and her sidekick, Belinda Friday, rule DCE with iron fists. Under the leadership of these two women, DCE had become an agency that thrives in an atmosphere of workplace bullying, intimidation, threats, under the protection a system of institutionalized oppression with no checks or balances. In the absence of accountability, both Nelson and Friday assumed absolute power; resulting in absolute corruption.
Untold numbers of complaints to the State Hotline and subsequent investigations include accusations of fiscal mismanagement, conflict of interest, violation of the special education law, gross violation of employment law, unacceptable drops in standardized test scores (both GED and SOL scores), and on it goes. Over all, DCE employees welcomed change with open arms and, for the first time in years, there was a sense of hope that justice, equality, and human dignity would be restored to the agency’s students and employees. As opposed to taking immediate and drastic action to correct the issues and misconduct, the administration deploys its “henchmen,” building administrators to threaten, intimidate, and warn employees against making further calls to the hotline reporting the misconduct. A majority of the principals and other administrators operate under the standard of “blind obedience by doing what they are told regardless of what is right, as opposed to ethics and morality, which warrant doing what is right regardless of what they are told.”
DCE, now the DJJ Division of Education, continues to tout its mission of “fighting crime though education,” but unethical, retaliatory, and irrational academic and operational decision-making has become “promoting crime through intimidation.” At the time of merger, employees were encouraged to submit questions to DCE administrators. As of the present, the questions have not been answered, have not been addressed, and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” stonewalling continues. DCE’s Interim Superintendent Pat Wilson stated, “DCE is the last hope for many of our students.” That being the case, the leadership of Nelson and Friday has driven a stake through the hearts of that hope. Their behavior snatches that hope from our students, punishes employees who advocate on their behalf, and supports their their quest for personal gain in their unrelenting pursuit of money, power, and prestige at taxpayers’ expense and in exchange for the futures of hundreds of students and families.
Following the consolidation of DCE and DJJ, Director Mark Gooch was contacted directly regarding DCE’s extensive history of gross misconduct, investigations, violations, and faltering student performance. In an email communication dated July 15, 2012, he vehemently stated that he would not tolerate any form of abuse, retaliation, or intimidation in DJJ by any employee. Gooch also stated that he was going to send investigators to address the reports. To date, not only has Director Gooch failed to keep his commitment to investigate the matter, but he has issued a directive, which is in direct contradiction to the Governor’s directive and agency policy; requiring that division employees operate through the chain of command, headed by Nelson and Friday, the main violators themselves. This is the equivalent of sending the fox to guard the henhouse. The question that is rampant throughout the agency is when will Nelson and Friday be held accountable for destroying the lives of students and staff as well as wasting and misusing taxpayer’s monies?
Director Gooch’s inaction, indecision, and indifference validate agency consensus that he, like Nelson and Friday, has no intent of eliminating the rampant fraud, waste, abuse, and dismal job performance by agency self-hired and self-promoted “superintendents.” He is empowering a ruthless, corrupt administration that is clearly operating with no regard for education, ethics, policy, accountability, or humanity. Not only has he capriciously dismissed findings of the State Auditor over the years, he is actively engaging in cover-up, akin to that of Penn State officials. Evidently, under Gooch’s direction, Superintendent Nelson, Assistant Superintendent Friday, Director of Special Education Trimmer, Director of Human Resources Linda Jackson-Shaw, and Human Resources Manager Gunn have been allowed to operate with invincibility. In reality, their misconduct and unethical actions warrant termination, and demand exploration into possible criminal prosecution. As one state official shared, “how can this agency help criminals when they are engaging in criminal acts themselves?”
In April 2012, Salim Khalfani, Executive Director of the Virginia NAACP, characterized the administration of one of DJJ’s facilities as “lies, cover-ups, and subterfuge.” He went on to make even harsher condemnations in response to the administration by stating that “this place is a cesspool of corruption, incompetence, and lies.” Khalfani documented evidence at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Facility of unqualified staff, safety violations, forged state records, and refusal of the agency to resolve employee grievances. Khalfani’s final statement embodies what hundreds of abused and intimidated division employees and residents feel. Khalfani went on to state that, “They (DJJ) say they want to do the right thing, but the right thing never seems to happen.” At present, the facility remains closed. When will the academic rights of incarcerated students and those who teach them be protected and those who violate them held accountable.(See:http://www.mobilitytechzone.com/news/2012/04/16/6262217.htm)
During the June 13, 2012 DJJ Board Meeting, as reflected in its minutes,(http://www.djj.virginia.gov/About_Us/Leadership/pdf/board_minutes_June_13_2012.pdf), Sheriff Stole voiced his concerns about certifying one of DJJ’s facilities when the issue of DJJ administrators forging and falsifying documents had not been adequately addressed by the agency, especially since the administrators in question continued to be employed with the agency.
Despite the efforts of the agency’s administration to bully, intimidate, threaten, and harass employees that refused to violate the law and cover-up misconduct, there is a growing revolution within DJJ, on both the security as well as the education side. Employees are no longer willing to be exploited and bullied into compliance with directives that they know to be illegal and unethical by their superiors, nor are they willing to take actions that they know to be detrimental to the welfare of students. While more and more employees are going out on stress-related leave due to the unbearable work conditions, others continue to challenge the administration via the state’s grievance process despite knowing that the agency administration, from the division head to the agency head, will undermine the process to avoid accountability and escalating the conflicts to hearings.
As one educator stated, “My principal ordered me to falsify the seat time of students for the state and when I refused to do it, I was asked me why I could not just “go along” with it.”
A security officer confessed that “we were told to alter the incident reports of residents. We knew that it was wrong, but we were told that we had to do it or loose our jobs.”
Still another educator reported, “We were told to falsify student grades so that failing students could have passing grades. When I refused, the administrator changed the grades themselves.”
A high ranking security officer also shared that, “on any given day, we have less than half the security staff that we need in order to operate the facility safely, but we are still told to do so. The administration knows this and the residents know this.”
Another high ranking security officer stated, in response to questions about operating the facility without the required security staff, “if something happens, then we will shut it down. Until then, we will keep going.”
Another educator stated, “We were told by our principal not to provide special education services for students in our class even though they had educational plans that required it by federal law. We were forced to be insubordinate to our immediate so that we could comply with the law and give our students what they were entitled to in order to achieve.”
Still another instructional staff member stated, “I have witnessed classrooms full of students playing Spades and watching movies for the entire instructional day, and not receiving one minute of instruction, but they were at school. Many of them are begging to be in a class where they can be taught.”
A high school teacher shared, “16 and 17-year olds are warehoused in our classrooms when they cannot return to high school when they are released, and their counselors and probation officers have recommended that they enroll in the GED program. We have been told that our students have to wait until they are eighteen, then they can either drop-out or enroll in GED themselves.”
A GED Instructor with the agency shared that, “our students have been denied their testing accommodations for the GED test. In one case, the request was referred to Director of Special Education, Sharon Trimmer, and sat on her desk/in her email box for months before she even responded. By that time, the students were forced to take the test without their accommodations, and many failed it. The agency is still receiving federal money to provide accommodations for students, but refuses to do it. ”
A Career Technical Teacher stated, “The division closed down the small engine program in the middle of the year when the instructor retired, so the students could not complete their training. Many went home with no certification.”
Another Career Technical Teacher said, “We were told to double the seat time of the students on paper and to teach our curriculums in half the time, which is impossible.”
An administrator shared, “This agency has no integrity. They can cover up for Claude Harris, a former principal at Bon Air Correctional Facility, when he was having sex with an underaged resident, but they refuse to
stand for what is right for our students and the staff that are doing the right things. (Harris was eventually sentenced to four years in prison for ongoing incidents of sexual misconduct that reportedly range from writing love letters to an underaged female inmate to engaging in intercourse with her on his birthday, which were repeatedly covered up by the agency heads. See:http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2009/aug/25/harr25_20090824-212403-ar-33003/)
The accounts of fraud, abuse, neglect, misallocation of funds, mismanagement of student programs, and workplace bullying are the true core values of the agency and the reason that the students continue to fail at increasing rates. The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice is a severely broken system at every level that is producing broken hearts, broken spirits, and broken futures of its employees, and most importantly, its students and families. Immediate action must be taken to restore the futures of our students, who, for many of them, DJJ is their last chance at a new life. In order to do so, the entire leadership team of the agency and educational division must be re-evaluated. Our students, their families, and our employees can no longer be subjected to incompetent and indifferent leadership just because they were the ones that were “next in line for the position.” Instead, Governor McDonnell must be careful to ensure that those that he is placing over our most vulnerable populations are qualified; in spirit, body, mind, and soul, and that he is not just returning a political favor with a political appointment. The agency’s Human Resources Department must do a better job as well to prevent “elevation by elimination” from being the preferred method of promotion within the highest ranks of the agency. Just because one administrator is eliminated does not mean that the one below him/her automatically gets elevated without going through the proper selection and hiring process. Nor should agency administrators, like the ones within the Division of Education, have the ability to put on and take off job titles, with the intent of increasing their salaries, like the rest of us put on and take off our clothes. There must be some form of accountability.
Are you a DJJ employee, (security or education-side), that needs help, support, or representation? Remember you have the right to question authority without being degraded or silenced. You have the right to exercise your rights without fear of retaliation or intimidation. You have the right to work is a safe, secure environment free from harassment, retaliation, intimidation, and any other form of employee abuse are not acceptable. You are obligated to speak up and out for incarcerated youth that are being exploited, abused, and neglected by those that are charged with protecting and nurturign them. You are not alone.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to join our confidential and secured advocacy group, which was developed to provide moral, legal, and economic support for educators within the correctional setting that are being victimized by administrations that are workplace bullies and criminals. Our team is helping educators, students, and parents to file grievances, state complaints, FBI Civil Rights complaints, Department of Justice, as well as Office of Civil Rights complaints.