State investigated grade changing in Prince George's County Public Schools earlier this year

- According to a report provided by Prince George’s County Public Schools, the state already investigated a complaint that the schools CEO was forcing educators to change grades to boost the graduation rate.

Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell and the majority of the school board point to the fact the investigation found no wrongdoing and the case was closed. But there are questions about how the investigation was conducted and who was interviewed.

The report says that in July of 2016, the U.S. Department of Education received an anonymous complaint alleging Maxwell “had forced educators to change grades of ninth and twelfth grade students to boost the promotion and graduation rates.”

It says the Maryland state superintendent had a discussion by phone with Dr. Maxwell. Then in December, the Maryland State Department of Education received a call from the federal department requesting a more formal investigation put in writing.

In December, an academic officer from the state met with Dr. Maxwell and according to her report, “asked him to identify others with whom I could talk to.”

Maxwell then set up a meeting with four district staffers: an instructional director, a data management and strategy analyst, a special project officer and a deputy superintendent. The investigator said she spent several hours doing interviews.

“Each of the persons with whom I spoke was very proud of the work being done in the school system,” the report reads.

It goes on to say, “None of the individuals recalled any situations for which there had been complaints that grades had been changed nor had they ever heard Dr. Maxwell indicate that anyone had to change grades.”

The report concluded that “there was nothing done to indicate grades had been manipulated nor that bullying had been used” to promote or graduate students.

The U.S. Department of Education responded, saying the investigation was satisfactory and that it “considers this matter closed.”

Board member David Murray, one of four board members who recently called for a state corruption probe, says the report is no smoking gun.

“I think that prior investigation actually makes it worse,” Murray said. “Because the superintendent did not notify the board that we were under investigation for something so serious, so that brings a lot of questions to my mind. Additionally, the investigation, as you know, was very limited in scope. It didn’t talk to anyone that is in schools, it didn’t talk to people who actually have knowledge of the issues.”

Murray and board members Edward Burroughs, Raaheela Ahmed and student member Juwan Blocker sent a letter to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan saying that whistleblowers at almost every level in the school system "have clear and convincing evidence that PGCPS has graduated hundreds of students who did not meet the Maryland State Department of Education graduation requirements."

Murray said he has seen proof and spoken to a number of whistleblowers.

“I’ve heard it from people at all levels, from administrators to assistant principals, from teachers to parents, to the students themselves,” he said.

Maxwell has denied the claims and called them “politically motivated.”

“This was educationally motivated,” Murray said. “What we’re talking about is getting the best education for our kids. This doesn’t have to do with politics.”

Board Chair Segun Eubanks and eight other board members wrote a letter to citizens standing with Maxwell.

“We trust and believe in our students and our staff and believe that when all is said and done, we’ll find out that our students who graduated did so because they worked hard and because they were supported well by their administrators,” Eubanks said.

In the letter, they questioned why their colleagues went to the state instead of bringing the claims to the attention of the rest of the board.

“It’s just unfortunate that now it’s outside of the organization, and we have to now spend time to reverse these allegations. It’s just unfortunate,” said board member Sonia Williams.

When asked if the board needed to reverse the allegations or look into them, she referenced the state investigation already completed.

Murray said the response from the rest of the board is why he wanted to take the investigation to the governor.

“That really gets back to the entire point which is, I think we are more concerned with looking good than being good,” Murray said. “You know, they wrote their letter proclaiming innocence before any of the facts were out, before we heard from any whistleblowers. So if we’re really having an open mind, we should be waiting for the evidence to come out before we’re drawing a conclusion.”

FOX 5 reached out to the Maryland State Department of Education about the prior investigation and asked whether the department will launch a new one.

“Unfortunately we are not commenting on any of these issues at this time. Please feel free to check back at a later date for any updates,” said Maryland State Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Foley in an email.

FOX 5 has been requesting an interview with Dr. Maxwell since last week.

Also Tuesday, a group of high school principals released a letter denying fraud allegations.

“The accusations are insulting to the professionals throughout Prince George’s County Schools who have dedicated themselves to educating high school students and supporting their success,” it reads in part.

There is a Prince George’s County school board meeting scheduled for Thursday.

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