Ballou HS principal removed during graduation scandal investigation

The scandal at DC's Ballou High might be just the first chapter. That's where students graduated -- despite missing months-worth of classes. The teachers' union agreed to meet with WUSA9 and share their side of the story.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - The principal at Ballou High School has been removed from her position as the district looks into a scandal surrounding last school year’s graduation.

DC Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson announced Dr. Yetunde Reeves has been assigned to another function in the district.
 
“We take this issue very seriously, and we know that policies must be explained clearly and implemented with fidelity,” Wilson said in a statement. “This investigation will restore integrity to the process by providing students, parents, and the broader community with answers.”


 
A report revealed students were allowed to graduate despite three months of unexcused absences.

Some city leaders knew about Ballou High School teachers’ concerns over the summer, but the investigation was just recently launched after a report revealed students were given diplomas without meeting graduation requirements.

“An investigation sounds great, but we need action,” Morgan Williams said.

Former Ballou High School teachers said they were ignored for too long.

Williams and Monica Brokenborough were one of many who alerted the school district about major problems affecting employees and students.

A joint report from WAMU and NPR exposed that students were able to graduate despite some of them missing three months of school unexcused. 

DCPS policy states after 30 unexcused absences a student would fail the class.

“There were a litany of different issues that were going on,” Williams told WUSA9.

A group of ten teachers took their concerns to DCPS the day after Ballou’s graduation 

The concerns were listed in an email obtained by WUSA9 more than one week later.

The concerns included accusations between school administrators and fellow teachers for many things, such as incompetence, dishonesty, discourteous treatment, misuse of official position, harassment, and retaliation.

However, the biggest grievance of all was perhaps the “illegal graduation of students.”

“A lot of people had knowledge of what is going on and I did not receive a single response from anybody after sending that email,” Brokenborough explained.

Brokenborough copied leaders from across the city, including city council members, the DC State Board of Education, DCPS officials, and the mayor’s office.

WUSA9 wanted to know why it took so long to look into the concerns.

It took 25 weeks between the emailed complaints and the launch of the city’s investigation.

The president of the DC State Board of Education confirmed they received the email from Brokenborough on July 24th, and Brokenborough testified before the State Board on July 19th.

Brokenborough asked the board to assist with reinstating employment to teachers at Ballou HS that have been bullied and evaluated in an unfair/unjust manner, provide oversight of the actions of in-house administrators & DCPS officials, and assist with the investigation that Labor-Management Employee Relations is supposedly conducting on issues Ballou HS teachers discussed on 6/14/2017.

Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teachers' Union, said changes are needed to prevent future scandals.

"We have got to look at some of the policies that we've enacted and determine whether they've been successful or effective," she said. "If not, we have to let them go."

Davis specifically points to the current emphasis placed on test scores and performance evaluations for teachers.

She said the city's educators are being put under a lot of pressure.

"We have a high stakes test that drives issues and mandates that create stories like Ballou," she said. "The Ballou story is nothing new. It's also an Atlanta story. It's happened across the country."
 
Karen Williams, the DC State Board of Education president, said the board has no authority over the issues Brokenborough raised and forwarded the complaints to the city council’s education committee.

“The State Board of Education routinely receives testimony from parents and advocates on particular deficiencies in the District’s education system,” Karen Willaims said. “We regularly attempt to work with the Executive and the Council to raise and address these issues, as was the case in this instance.”

At-large city councilmember Robert White said he had a series of meetings and conversations to address the problems.

“Ms. Monica Brokenborough sent an initial email to city officials raising concerns at Ballou on May 17th. I immediately reached out to the Chancellor’s office and asked him for a response. I also sent a letter to the Chair of the Committee on Education on June 1st to raise concerns about issues we were hearing from both teachers and students at Ballou and to request a hearing,” White wrote in a statement.

Councilmember White called for an independent investigation on Friday, December 1st.

“I believe it is not appropriate for OSSE to investigate this matter given recent significant misreported data from OSSE and the overlapping roles of OSSE and DCPS,” White explained. “The investigation must be undertaken by an outside entity if we hope to restore public confidence in our schools and school leaders and have faith that all issues have been identified and that all responsible parties are held accountable.”

The mayor’s office sent a statement on behalf of DCPS.

“We are taking this issue very seriously and are examining how policies and procedures were explained and implemented. It is our resolve to restore integrity to the process and provide the students, parents and broader District community with answers to ensure this never happens again,” Chancellor Wilson offered. 

Teachers also sent another email to high level administrators in March of this year which was before those students graduated.

That email listed concerns teachers had with grades being changed and questionable reporting policies.

Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a Mayor's Order directing the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to review district-wide policies and investigate specific allegations at the school level. 

The city is getting support from an outside firm to assist them with the review and investigation.

OSSE will deliver its findings within 45 days. 

DCPS is conducting its own review of policies and practices at Ballou, concurrently with OSSE.

Principal Willie Jackson will serve as Acting Principal of Ballou High School.

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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