Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) started the 2018-19 academic year with a focus on safety. Bus and building safety, child abuse, bullying, suicide prevention and environmental safety continue to be important in creating a welcoming learning environment, according to the school system.
This spring in an interview with The Town Courier, Derek Turner, MCPS director of communications, said that many of the school system’s 133 elementary schools would get three to five security cameras. Turner indicated that school and Central Office staff could monitor these cameras.
In a follow-up interview on school security this fall, MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said that the school system has enough staff to monitor cameras planned for the elementary schools.
The school system stressed its thorough employee vetting process this fall in the wake of the case of Etienne Kabongo, an MCPS bus driver since 2006 who was arrested this summer and charged with sexually assaulting four students on his school bus. In a Sept. 3 emailed message, “A Message From MCPS—Ensuring Student Safety,” the school system stated that it does “multi-point background checks for all employees, contractors and certain volunteers.”
According to the MCPS website, potential employees must disclose past criminal conduct on their employee application, have their fingerprints run through the Maryland and FBI criminal history databases, and undergo a background review by Child Protective Services to check for allegations of child abuse and neglect, including those with no arrests or charges made but investigated.
In contrast, Montgomery County police and fire departments routinely conduct a background check on potential employees that takes at least six months. It involves interviewing parents, former employers, high school teachers, doing credit checks and a polygraph examination.
When asked for details on the background check done on Kabongo and information on where he worked last, Onijala said that she could not provide that information due to privacy laws. She was asked whether the fingerprinting of Kabongo was sufficient and whether a true background check was performed. She maintained that the MCPS process is thorough.
Given the number of individuals employed by MCPS, the sort of background check done by Montgomery County police and fire departments would be nearly impossible, she said.