WASHINGTON - The head of the Prince George's County public school system says allegations of grade fixing to inflate the county's graduation rate are "completely and utterly false." PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell discussed the allegations and pending state investigation in a live interview on FOX 5 News Morning Wednesday.
The interview comes after the Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to launch a third-party investigation into claims of grade fixing and other fraud in Prince George's County Public Schools. FOX 5 broke the story that teachers and staff members report being under tremendous pressure to increase the high school graduation rate. Some say they have personally been told make sure grades are changed for failing students.
Four Prince George's County school board members contacted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to say they have evidence of "widespread systemic corruption" in the school system. After FOX 5's report, Hogan called for a thorough, exhaustive investigation.
"A lot of people are demanding answers and we think we need to get to the bottom of it," Hogan told FOX 5. "If the concerns are true then this is a serious problem, but either way we've got to get to the facts so we want to get it done as quickly as possible. But we want to do as thorough as a job as we possibly can."
The state board of education, which oversees the Maryland State Department of Education, said it will hire an outside organization to the conduct the investigation.
Maxwell speaks out: Allegations of corruption are false
In an exclusive interview live on FOX 5 Wednesday morning, Dr. Maxwell maintained there is no corruption taking place inside Prince George's County Public Schools.
"Absolutely not. These accusations that there is systemic corruption at the highest levels of this school system are completely and utterly false," Maxwell said.
Dr. Maxwell said he believes the reason the allegations continue to be discussed is because people keep talking about it.
"If people keep saying it, then people want to investigate it. I don't disagree with investigating because again, I want to resolve this matter. There is no systemic corruption-- there is nothing from me or anyone who is on my direct team who is telling anyone to do anything illegal," he told FOX 5.
In January, the Maryland State Department of Education conducted an investigation into grade-fixing in Prince George's County Public Schools, but according to records, the state investigator spoke only to Maxwell and four district staff members he recommended. The investigation found no wrongdoing.
Until now, Maxwell and the majority of the school board have maintained that investigation should stand. But in a letter dated Tuesday, they called for the state to investigate. It was read by Maryland Interim State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon at Tuesday's meeting.
"This letter is to serve as a formal request for a follow-up investigation by the Maryland State Department of Education into allegations regarding the Prince George's County Public Schools' high school graduation rates since my arrival," the letter reads in part.
In the letter, Dr. Maxwell continued to deny that he or others working for him are promoting students in order to inflate the graduation rate.
Maxwell wants investigation to put allegations to rest 'once and for all'
On FOX 5 Wednesday morning, Maxwell said he is moving forward with this request for an investigation to make sure the allegations are put to rest once and for all. He said during the previous investigation, both the Maryland State Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education cleared the district of any wrongdoing.
"That these four board members reopened it is sad," Maxwell said.
When asked why he thinks the allegations continues to fester, Maxwell said FOX 5 would have to ask the people who are bringing the allegations about systemic corruption "because it's just not true."
Reports coming from some schools in the district show lower test scores in some areas and lower attendance in the 2015-2016 school year, but higher graduation rates. Asked how this was possible, Maxwell explained it's about giving students multiple pathways to get where they're going.
"The reality is, if we give those students the opportunities at compass learning, at quarterly learning modules, if we allow them to have the opportunities at apex learning and multiple ways to get where they need to go, more children will be successfull-- and the fact that there's good attendance and the scores are lagging is exactly why we put this work into place," Maxwell said.
According to Maxwell, this is the same thing that happens in other school districts around the state and across the nation.
When asked what it would mean for him if the state's investigation found that corruption were present in PGCPS, Maxwell said that wouldn't happen.
"They're not going to find-- that's a question that is not really accurate. They're not going to find systemic corruption. That's what the allegation is. Systemic corruption from the highest levels of this district, and it's utterly and completely false."
Andrew Smarick, the president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said Tuesday that the state will need to hire an outside organization before the investigation begins. He said it is too soon to say what the investigation will entail and how many people will be involved.