Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Wednesday that more people could be fired and even face criminal charges as a result of a deeper investigation into the high rate of grade changes that happened at seven Memphis high schools over four years.
Saying that he’s angry and ultimately responsible for oversight of Tennessee’s largest district, Hopson said independent auditors soon will go into those schools to begin talking with people responsible for grade changes.
“I just want to be clear that, to the extent that they find that there were inappropriate grade changes either made by people or directed by people, then those people are going to be fired,” Hopson told reporters. “That’s just as clear as I can be.”
Beyond that, Hopson’s administration is discussing the possibility of turning over a list of former school administrators to the district attorney, who would have subpoena power in the matter. He said “nobody would talk” when contacted by auditors during the first external review.
“I don’t know what the statute says around false grading but, from my standpoint, what has happened to these kids is criminal,” he said.
The superintendent’s comments came a week after the district released two massive reports from outside investigators. His tough talk reflects the widening nature of an emerging scandal that began with just one school.
Two employees — a former football coach and a secretary — already have been fired from Trezevant High School, where grades from final report cards had been changed on transcripts that were sent to colleges, according to the report from Dixon Hughes Goodman, which analyzed data from 2012 to 2016.
But auditors also found a high rate of grade changes at other schools and have been authorized to begin looking deeper at:
- Kirby High
- Raleigh-Egypt High
- Bolton High
- Westwood High
- White Station High
- Trezevant High
- Memphis Virtual School
Two other schools also were flagged by the audit, but Hopson said the district does not have authority to investigate Arlington High School, which is now part of a suburban municipal district, or Gestalt Power Center Academy, which is a charter school.
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The superintendent cautioned against a rush to judgment of schools other than Trezevant.
“I don’t want to just say that because there are schools with abnormally high grade changes that they did something wrong,” he said, noting that changes are legitimate if work gets made up. “But if they did, we’re not going to tolerate it.”
What the investigation means for students and graduates is unclear. The first external review found that at least 53 students who graduated from Trezevant shouldn’t have received their diplomas.
Citing “uncharted territory,” Hopson said his administration will concentrate first on students whose grades were wrongly changed and who are still in Shelby County Schools. As for students who have graduated with false grades, the district will work with the State Department of Education to figure out what action to take.
“That’s why I’m so angry,” he said. “You can be a kid who could theoretically have graduated from college now and, because some adults did selfish and stupid things, there may be kids right now who are in the workforce who are wondering what if any impact this is going to have on their life.”
Grade-fixing scandals in other major U.S. districts typically involved bonuses and other financial incentives for good grades and high graduation rates, but Hopson said there are no such motivations in Shelby County Schools.
“I don’t know what the impetus for this was …,” he said. “It makes you scratch your head.”
You can find the full report from an investigation by Butler Snow and an audit by Dixon Hughes Goodman here.