Last June, it was a happy story of "defying the odds," Ballou High School's principal said each of their 170 students from the class of 2017 not only graduated, but received a college acceptance letter.
Now a joint WAMU and NPR investigation claims a lot of these kids should not have graduated at all and that the whole thing may have been a sham.
Outside of the Southeast, D.C. high school on Wednesday, many of the students were upset.
“People shouldn’t just talk down on my school. Like I don’t like that,” said one student, who knew very well of the joint investigation report.
Laura Askew, a parent of a Ballou freshman, said she was surprised and is now concerned for her daughter.
“Actually getting the education, being actually taught and not just passed on,” said Askew.
This is just two of many reactions to a recent NPR and WAMU report that says last school year, half of the Frank W. Ballou Senior High School students who graduated, missed more than three months of school unexcused.
The report says, according to DCPS school policy, a student who misses 30 days of class, fails that class. In the most extreme case, one student reportedly missed more than 150 days and still graduated.
“You don’t necessarily know that’s true,” said a current Ballou student. “They could’ve not went to class and they also could’ve got their work done at the same time. They could’ve got packets and still did their work.”
There’s also allegations in the joint report of teachers being pressured, through bonuses or poor performance reviews, to change failing grades.
“I didn’t know all that was going to be in the – in the story,” said DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson who said he was made of the accusations through the press weeks ago.
Wilson told a room full of reporters, he had never heard any of those specific complaints from any of the outgoing teachers who left Ballou High School last school year.
Last May, our editorial partner the Washington Post had uncovered nearly 200 D.C. public school teachers quit their jobs and that Ballou had lost about a quarter of its staff.
WUSA9 also reported that about two (school years) ago, only three percent of Ballou students met city-wide tested reading standards.
“With what you read, do you feel the kids who graduated last year were set up to fail,” WUSA9 asked Chancellor Wilson.
“Well I would say, when I read the story, I’m concerned about what happened over Ballou,” he responded.
On Wednesday, D.C.’s Mayor Bowser started off the press conference by announcing an internal investigation will be done at Ballou.
The Mayor said OSSE, which refers to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, will review the policy related to attendance, graduation and credit recovery.
Markus Batchelor is the Ward 8 State Board of Education represented. He went to Ballou High School on Wednesday and said he welcomes both an internal and external investigation.
“It’s just impossible to get the type of instruction you need if you miss that many days or hours…” said Batchelor.
After the news conference, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso, announced a public hearing would be organized to investigate the state of graduation city-wide. Grosso is the council’s Chairperson for the Committee on Education.
Chancellor Wilson defended Ballou’s principal (as did some students) and said Dr. Yetunde Reeves will stay in place.
The Mayor and DCPS Chancellor also reiterated, any changes to Ballou or school policy will depend on the investigation’s findings.
Wilson said they are not planning to revoke any of the high school diplomas given, but will look into whether they should have been awarded.