clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Memphis high school principal demoted over improper grade changes

Students told reporters that they want clarity on whether Smith will be fired or will return to their school.
About 200 students at Hamilton High School stage a Jan. 10 walkout to seek more information about the suspension of their principal. On Tuesday, their principal was demoted by the school board of Shelby County Schools over her role in inappropriate grade changes at the Memphis school.
Bronson Worthy, Campaign for School Equity

A Memphis high school principal suspended for improper grade changes that happened under her watch was demoted on Tuesday but not fired.

Hamilton High School Principal Monekea Smith had been suspended without pay since mid-December after an investigation found that she gave her password to an employee who then changed an undisclosed number of report card grades soon after the end of the 2016-17 school year. The employee has not been identified, and an investigation is continuing into the matter.

The school board for Shelby County Schools voted unanimously, with one member absent, to follow the recommendation of Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to suspend and demote Smith. But since the recommended 20-day suspension has already passed, she will receive back pay for any days she’s been suspended above that, according to Hopson.

The decision came despite urgings by a dozen speakers who asked the school board to reinstate Smith. Since her suspension, the principal has enjoyed widespread support from students, many of whom walked out of Hamilton High earlier this month demanding more details on the matter.

But after the vote, many in the crowd applauded the board for allowing Smith to remain employed by the district and to pursue a hearing if she chooses.

Monekea Smith
Monekea Smith

The charges against Smith said report card grades were changed from failing to passing grades in the school’s database “without the knowledge and/or justification of the course’s assigned teacher.”

“Ms. Smith acknowledged that there was no legitimate reason for the grade changes and further admitted that she violated SCS policy by providing her computer access password to individuals who were not authorized to have such access,” the charges read.

Hamilton High was the second Memphis school implicated in a grade-changing scandal that has rocked Tennessee’s largest district since the principal of Trezevant High School reported inconsistencies between report cards and transcripts in the fall of 2016. A subsequent independent investigation revealed “pervasive” misconduct at Trezevant and high instances of grade changes at nine other high schools, prompting a deeper probe into seven of those schools.

Two Trezevant employees were fired last year in the case, and Hopson has said that more people could be fired and even face criminal charges if investigators discover inappropriate grade changes “either made by people or directed by people.”

The charges said that Smith “allowed an employee lacking her level of authorization to use her login credentials to access the system in order to make unjustified report card grade changes.”

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Connect with your community

Find upcoming Tennessee events