UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - For the first time, one of the Prince George's County Public Schools employees fired after the grade-fixing and graduation rate scandal is speaking out -- saying he refuses to let the school district make him a scapegoat.
Troy Sibila, a former guidance counselor at DuVal High School in Lanham, was among five employees who lost their jobs after accusations they violated policies relating to grading and graduating students.
Three guidance counselors, the principal and assistant principal were the only employees to lose their jobs even though a state audit found widespread grade-changing and policy violations throughout the district's high schools. The audit showed nearly a third of students surveyed didn't have records on file to prove they earned a diploma.
Sibila is a graduate of Bowie High School who started as a long-term substitute at DuVal before becoming a guidance counselor.
"The best part is when I see a child who thinks they cannot graduate and we are there to assist them, to make sure they are college and career ready," he said. "To have that mother or father and student give us the biggest hug during graduation."
Sibila became a counselor in 2014, around the same time Dr. Kevin Maxwell became Prince George's County Public Schools CEO. He said he was on board with Maxwell's plan to boost the graduation rate, giving students every opportunity, and school leaders specific graduation rate goals. Last year, DuVal's goal was over 95 percent. Sibila said the goals were extremely important and part of the evaluation process for counselors and administrative staff. The rates were also closely monitored by the central office staff, especially toward the end of the school year.
"We had to meet those goals," he said. "It was per direct order from our central office team."
Sibila's termination letter said he went well beyond school policies to help students graduate. According to the letter, he is accused of "misconduct and willful neglect of duty" for making inappropriate grade changes and spearheading an unapproved program that let failing students pass by doing a worksheet packet.
Prince George's County Public Schools did have an authorized program that let failing students pass by completing a worksheet packet, but it was only supposed to be for students who earned between 50 and 59 percent as a quarter grade. DuVal's program let students below 49 percent earn as many points as they needed, according to the letter.
"This is this is something we have been doing since I have been there since 2014," Sibila said.
He claims the central office staff who supervised the school knew exactly what they were doing.
Doris Reed, a union leader who represents the principal and assistant principal at DuVal who lost their jobs, also contends the program was in place the year prior and that the school's instructional director and associate superintendent were "well aware" of it.
"The assistant principal, when I talked to her, she said, 'Well, why would I think there was a problem with this program when the administration knew the year before we were using it?'" said Reed, executive director of the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel.
Reed said she does not understand why these specific employees were the only people to lose their careers over the graduation scandal.
The state audit shows Croom High School used similar methods to help students graduate by offering unsanctioned "recovery packets" at the end of the year. At Fairmont Heights High School, the audit states, "The school is not following the guidelines with regards to make up work and grade changes," and goes on to cite inappropriate measures taken to boost students' grades. At Largo High School, the audit discovered the guidance office was letting students donate a dollar to charity in exchange for one state-mandated learning service hour. There are countless other examples in the audit of policy violations and improper actions.
Despite that, a school district spokesman said DuVal was the only high school where "intentional" violations were found.
"If Dr. Maxwell places anyone else on administrative leave, then that is going to show it is a systemic issue," Sibila said. "He's not going to put anyone else on administrative leave, he's not going to fire anyone else. He's hoping that DuVal High School is going to be a scapegoat. And I'm here to fight for my professional counselors as well as my administration."
"People get so furious that we are talking to press, like I'm talking to you today," said Reed. "Where else are people going to go? It has to be told. These things have to be exposed."
When Sibila went back to DuVal to get his belongings, he got to see a few students. He said he never thought this is how he would say goodbye.
"I cried," he said. "This really impacts my professional duties to my students, I feel like I let them down."
He said he plans to fight for his job and appeal his firing to the Board of Education.
On FOX 5 Morning, we asked Dr. Maxwell about Sibila's claim he is being scapegoated.
"I would just say to you, 'Look, you and I, neither one of us have all of the interviews, all the due process work that was done to make those decisions," Maxwell said. "But I respect the rule of law and if there's an appeal that is overturned, there's an appeal that is overturned. But people should do the right thing. We have been working very hard to make sure that everyone is trained in what the process and procedures are and we expect them to do the right thing. Not what they are told to do if it's wrong."
A school district spokesman said Prince George's County Public Schools is not looking to fire other employees as a result of the audit findings. Dr. Maxwell has said that neither he nor anyone from his staff directed grade changing or any improper action.
FOX 5's coverage on the Prince George's County grade-fixing investigation: