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By Donna St. George and Arelis R. Hernández,
Four school board members in Prince George’s County have urged Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to launch an investigation into what they allege is a systemic effort to fraudulently boost graduation rates in the school system.
The members, a minority bloc on the 14-member board, charge that the state’s second-largest school system engaged in “widespread systemic corruption” that inflated graduation rates since 2014.
“Whistleblowers at almost every level in PGCPS have clear and convincing evidence that PGCPS has graduated hundreds of students who did not meet the Maryland State Department of Education graduation requirements,” the four said in a letter.
The members who authored the letter, dated May 30, are Edward Burroughs III, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed, and student member Juwan Blocker. Burroughs, who provided the first signature on the letter, is a frequent critic of Kevin Maxwell, the chief executive of the school system.
In their letter, they noted that Maxwell started as the top leader of the 132,000-student system in summer 2013 and that he has touted graduation rate improvements as a signature achievement.
Maxwell, who was recently appointed to a second term by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, issued a sharply worded statement Monday that called the letter “politically motivated.” He said he would welcome a review of the situation by state education officials.
“These claims are an affront to the hard work of our teachers, administrators, students and parents over the last few years,” he said. “I categorically deny any systemic effort to promote students who did not meet state graduation requirements.”
Maxwell said Prince George’s schools have “much to celebrate this graduation season,” including scholarship awards, admissions to top colleges and career certifications.
State data shows four-year graduation rates in Prince George’s have improved from 74.1 percent for the class of 2013 to 81.4 percent for the class of 2016. Data for this year’s class is not yet available.
The letter was first reported Saturday by Fox 5 News. It requested that Hogan order the state’s attorney general and department of education to investigate, asking for documents to be seized and a process created so that whistleblowers may come forward without fear of retribution.
A spokeswoman for Hogan called the allegations “very concerning” and said in an email they had been forwarded to the Maryland State Department of Education.
A state education department spokeswoman did not have immediate comment Monday morning.
The letter alleged that whistleblowers have evidence about the manipulation of student records both before and after graduation.
According to the four board members, the whistleblowers said:
*Courses that students had not taken had been added to their records;
*Grades were changed without teachers’ consent; and,
*Students received credit for service learning hours that they had not earned. Maryland requires students to amass a certain number of service learning hours for graduation.
The board members alleged that some employees have been assigned to manipulate student records after diplomas have been issued “to cover up this fraud.”
“These actions, which alter the much touted student graduation rate, are occurring across the school system leading us to believe that there are accomplices and complicity at the highest levels of the school system,” the letter said.