NAACP officials in Prince George’s County are slated to meet with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) after a probe into the county’s Public School system revealed at least 59 students, in the past two years, graduated from local high schools after educators changed their grades.
The 211-page report, which was released Nov. 3, also showed that a significant number of students who graduated in 2016 and 2017 had excessive “unlawful” absences and teachers did not consistently adhere to grading procedures, among other findings.
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County NAACP, sent a letter to Hogan on Nov. 30 about what he calls a “grade changing scandal.”
“The Prince] George’s County NAACP believes education is the civil rights issue of our time and every single graduate that was issued a diploma without meeting the basic requirements and/or missing over 50 days of school had their civil rights violated,” Ross said in the letter. “The students impacted will suffer greatly for the rest of their lives because of the neglect and selfishness of our school system’s leadership.”
Ross requested the governor meet with NAACP education committee members and a small group of parents and community leaders in December. Hogan has agreed to the meeting. A formal date has yet to be set.
The need for an investigation was prompted in May by four members of the school system’s school board who wrote a letter to Hogan alleging that hundreds of students graduated without meeting Maryland State Department of Education requirements.
Hogan called for an investigation into the alleged tampering. The state board voted in June and hired D.C. firm Alvarez & Marsal in August to conduct the investigation.
The firm conducted the performance audit between Sept. 12 and Oct. 31. During that time, 107 people filed complaints pertaining to the investigation, nearly half of them were related to improper grade changes and graduating ineligible students, according to the report.
The investigators found that 59, or 4.9 percent, of the sampled students were clearly ineligible to graduate and 297 students, or 24.5 percent, lacked proper documentation to justify walking across the stage. They also found that nearly 38 percent of graduates had more than 10 days of unlawful absences during the 2015-2016 school year and nearly 44 percent of students broke absenteeism policies for passing classes during the following year.
The report outlines three overarching recommendations to improve practices, oversight, and accountability around grading policies, grade changes, and graduation certification. The school system’s officials have until early January to submit a plan.
Ross said in the letter that while he is “deeply concerned” about the graduation grade changes, he believes it’s “just the effect, while the cause runs deeper.”
He said that the meeting with Hogan is necessary because “we cannot leave PG County administration alone to handle this matter. The level of dishonesty leads us to believe that a deeper investigation needs to occur and that more state involvement is necessary.”
In response to Ross’ allegations, Prince George’s County Public Schools spokesperson John White told the AFRO\ that CEO Kevin Maxwell “has encouraged everyone to take the state audit findings seriously and to maintain our focus on improving outcomes for students.”
He said Maxwell has met with all high school principals and his administrative team has provided information to multiple groups.
School officials have been communicating directly with parents and principals have met with their teachers to discuss the findings and how they relate to their schools, according to White. High school principals were encouraged to bring their guidance counselors, registrars, and grade managers to a recent system-wide principals meeting.
County Executive Rushern Baker, III announced Maxwell’s renewal for a second four-year term in February. The decision was based, in part, on the data that graduation rates were at their highest since the state education department began reporting in 2010.
In June, the Prince George’s County NAACP opposed the decision in light of the grade-changing probe, which officials said called into question Maxwell’s credibility and leadership.
Baker, who is running against Hogan as a democrat in 2018, recently told reporters that he is standing by Maxwell “to move this school system forward.”