EXCLUSIVE: DC teachers say they lost their jobs after refusing to change grades, pass students

- Former educators from a D.C. school say they faced intense pressure to change grades and pass students, and when they refused to comply and tried to expose what was happening, they lost their jobs.

They worked at Roosevelt STAY, an alternative school housed inside Roosevelt High School. They call their former workplace a “diploma mill.”

The school staff we spoke to did not want to be identified because they hope to return to work for D.C. Public Schools.

“Some teachers were bullied and pressured into changing grades, and in other instances, administration would go in and manually change the grades,” one educator said.

Staff says that some students at Roosevelt STAY missed nearly the entire year and still walked for graduation.

“We called them ghost students because we had no idea these people actually existed,” another educator said. “They were nothing but a name. But come June graduation, they were walking across the stage in droves.”

In a 2015 email, the school’s principal at the time said she was “not excited about the number of students failing.”

Eugenia Young went on to write: “Please don’t give me the excuse students are not attending, that is not an acceptable reason.”

She also told staff that pass and promotion rates would be added to teacher assessments.

“We were at a crossroads,” a teacher said. “Do we keep our professional integrity or do we keep our jobs?”

Staff says they refused to act unethically and during the 2016-17 school year, tried to meet with the principal and others in the school system to discuss the issues. They say before they could, some of the staff members found out they were out of a job. They were “excessed,” which means their positions were eliminated, but they had the opportunity to find another job within D.C. Public Schools. Some still have not.

In June 2017, a letter from the teacher’s union to the school system’s labor relations questions the excessing and calls for an investigation into “allegations of student grade tampering and the inflation of student attendance.” The letter notes the use of the teacher evaluation process as a way to retaliate against teachers who raised issues.

Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis says she never received a response to the letter.

Young now works as principal at a different D.C. school.

D.C. Public Schools provided no specific answers to FOX 5’s questions about what happened at Roosevelt STAY, citing an inability to comment on personnel matters.

On Monday, an audit of the school district’s high schools revealed a third of students who graduated last year did not meet requirements. 

At Roosevelt STAY, this was especially a problem, with 61 percent of students graduating despite policy violations.

At a press conference, FOX 5 asked D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson if he was aware of any cases where educators had been retaliated against for refusing to push students through.

“What I can say is that through the process of investigation at Ballou High School, we have some complaints that have made that are being addressed that way,” Wilson said. “And then there was one other high school where there were complaints. We have not found evidence of folks being coerced to change grades.”

Ward 8 school board member Markus Batchelor says the systemic culture revealed in D.C. Public Schools is the result of political pressure impacting education.

“The fact is behaviors like this have been going on unchecked for years and it is only because the only way that these stories get told is through the media,” Batchelor said.

He says it seems the focus is more on looking good than being good.

“And I think it’s been at the expense of our students who clearly needed more support and more services and more attention,” said Batchelor.

When asked by FOX 5 about the underlying reason for the audit results, D.C. Mayor Bowser replied, “Well, what I hope is that people were trying to do right by kids. Unfortunately they did the wrong things.”

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