News Release, Charles County Public Schools

The Charles County Commissioners on Tuesday reduced the Board of Education’s fiscal year 2020 budget by $452,200, the amount identified to fund the Fresh Start Academy. The Commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, reduced the instruction, fixed charges and administration categories by the exact amount in each category designated to support the Academy and placed those amounts in a contingency fund.

“Fresh Start Academy is designed to help children who are having difficulty adjusting to the classroom structure. We are disappointed in the Commissioners’ decision; however, we plan to continue to do everything we can to support our students and teachers,” said Superintendent Kimberly Hill.

Fresh Start Academy is a proposed Charles County Public Schools program for children in kindergarten to second grade who are unable to access the curriculum due to unsafe behavior. In some extreme cases, their actions maypose possible danger to themselves, other children and staff.  “Simply put, the first thing our children need to learn is how to be students in a school, and often they learn this at different rates. Fresh Start is a therapeutic program for those children who are still discovering how to adjust; it was never intended to be disciplinary in nature,” Hill said.

Reuben Collins, president of the Commissioners, said the reduced dollars would remain in the contingency fund until legal questions were resolved. Collins was referring to a letter from the Attorney General’s Office stating concerns about whether the program would violate a law that limits suspensions for early childhood students.

Commissioner Amanda Stewart asked if the Attorney General’s Office requested input from the school system about the program. Amy Hollstein, deputy superintendent, said the Maryland Attorney General’s office issued the letter without contacting the school system or asking for information about the program. Hollstein said she is confident that the changes made to the Fresh Start Program — including parent opt-in and the elimination of a 45-day student placement — address the concerns raised in the letter. “We believe this program will help children,” Hollstein said.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...