ROCKVILLE – An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor cleared Montgomery County public school officials of any wrongdoing in the Rock Terrace “transition to work” program. Johanna Hawkins, spokeswoman for the DOL, said the Wage and Hour Division did not find any violations or an employment relationship between the school and the students.
An MCPS investigation yielded similar results. MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers said an investigation conducted by a law firm hired by MCPS concluded the school system did not commit any fraud but admitted there was poor money management by officials.
“Unfortunately it took us a lot of effort to convince them they were not salary and wages. I guess it was clear to us but not to them,” Bowers said.
Allegations of misappropriation against the Rock Terrace “transition to work” program were first brought to the attention of MCPS in early 2013. Students who participated in the program were paid $3.65 a day from an MCPS fund. The students received a W-2 for the wages they made at their jobs. The students were paid through bank accounts but it was discovered in May 2013 money was withdrawn from the accounts without the students’ or their parents’ permission.
Lynda Astrove, a special education and disability attorney/advocate who is working with the Rock Terrace families, called the ruling distressing and called for more transparency from MCPS.
“The thing that distressed me the most was that it was reported that MCPS letter to the labor department said that MCPS did not receive any benefit from the students’ work. I think that it is incredibly insulting and reflective of a bias against a people with disability,” Astrove said. “The kids that work in the bistro and the cafeteria did useful work and they did work that MCPS would have had to pay somebody else to do if they weren’t doing it. So of course MCPS received benefit.”
In January, MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr promised the students a $200 stipend. MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said some of the students received the stipends. Tofig says the school system is still deciding if it will continue similar work programs.
MCPS has assembled a work group that will provide a recommendation to the superintendent about the continuation of the programs.