Following a news report that unearthed a graduation scandal at Ballou Senior High School, the D.C. Public schools chancellor removed its principal on Dec. 4 and reassigned her to the Central Office, officials confirmed.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education and the D.C. Public Schools have also launched separate investigations that target the Southeast D.C. high school and its policies.
A joint investigative report between WAMU, American University’s radio station and NPR published Nov. 28 found the high school was graduating students who never should have walked. Some seniors had repeated absences and others couldn’t read or write.
Willie Jackson, principal of Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, will temporarily replace Yetunde Reeves, who has been at the helm since 2014. Jackson will serve as the school’s acting principal.
“We take this issue very seriously, and we know that policies must be explained clearly and implemented with fidelity,” Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson wrote in a statement. “This investigation will restore integrity to the process by providing students, parents and the broader community with answers.”
On Dec. 4, State Superintendent Hanseul Kang announced that OSSE hired the Alvarez and Marsal consulting firm to audit DCPS policies and probe the allegations rocking the high school.
“We look forward to working with them to determine what happened at Ballou High School, but also to ensure we are looking deeply, system-wide to ensure we are meeting our achievement goals,” Kang said in a statement provided to the AFRO.
OSSE will deliver the results of this investigation to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser within 45 days. The contract for the OSSE investigation costs roughly $390,000, according to Fred Lewis, OSSE community relations specialist.
The probe comes days after Bowser signed a mayor’s order directing it to start the investigation. In an email she sent to the community, Bowser said she takes the allegations against Ballou seriously and reiterated the importance of preparing students for college and beyond.
“We must ensure that our attendance policies are clear, transparent, and consistently administered for every child, at every school, and every day,” Bowser said in the letter. “I can ensure you that we will find out if mistakes were made and we will fix them.”
DCPS’ internal investigation centers on the high school’s policies and practices, a spokeswoman confirmed to the AFRO on Dec. 4. DCPS will present preliminary results of this inquiry at the Dec. 15 D.C. City Council hearing.
“The chancellor and DCPS look forward to receiving the results of both investigations and will implement changes based on what we learn,” DCPS Press Secretary Kristina Saccone said in an emailed statement to the AFRO.
The investigation from the WAMU and NPR report found that Ballou’s administration graduated dozens of students, even though there were high rates of unexcused absences, with half of the graduates missing more than three months of school. Under DCPS policy, students who miss class more than 30 times are supposed to flunk the course. The report found that most students in the class of 2017 missed more than six weeks of school.
When these kids did go to school, many were struggling with their studies, the report said. An internal email that WMAU and NPR secured showed just 57 students were on track to graduate in the class of 2017. But in June, all 164 Ballou seniors received high school diplomas and were accepted into college.