SALISBURY, Md. - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says he wants independent investigators to look into allegations of fraud and grade fixing in Prince George's County Public Schools.
In his first interview on this topic, Hogan said the Maryland State Board of Education would oversee the investigation.
"We will let the state board decide the best way to pursue it," he said. "I think we should have an independent body take a look at this."
Hogan has called for a thorough, exhaustive investigation into claims made four Prince George's County school board members that hundreds of students have graduated without meeting state requirements in recent years. Teachers and staff members have told FOX 5 that tremendous pressure to increase the high school graduation rate has resulted in grade changing and manipulation of records.
"We keep hearing all of this outcry," Hogan said. "We haven't seen any evidence, but when there's smoke, there's usually fire and there's an awful lot of smoke out there. We just want to find out if something is on fire."
The Maryland State Board of Education met Monday, but has not decided on next steps, according to a spokesperson. There will be another meeting Tuesday where a decision could be made.
The board of education oversees the Maryland State Department of Education, which conducted an investigation into grade fixing in Prince George's County Public Schools in January. According to records, the state investigator spoke only to schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell and four district staff members Maxwell recommended. The investigation found no wrongdoing.
"We just found out that there was this so-called investigation, and it wasn't acceptable to other people and it wasn't acceptable to us," Hogan said. "That's why we have asked instead to have the actual state board of education themselves, which is a body that oversees the school system and is responsible for oversight, for them to conduct the investigation and to do a complete and thorough one - one that gets to all the facts."
Hogan went on to say that "potentially, [the board will] have to hire some help to get it done."
The school staff members FOX 5 has spoken to have all asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. We asked Hogan what his message is to those hesitant to come forward.
"I would say that our state is going to aggressively protect any whistleblowers that come forward with information," he said. "The state school system and our offices, the attorney general will make sure that nobody is going to have their rights violated by coming forward, and they shouldn't feel threatened. We will make sure they are protected."
CEO Dr. Maxwell continues to refuse interview requests. In a statement on Sunday, he said:
"From the beginning, I have maintained that politics lie at the root of these accusations. There has been no systemic effort to promote students in Prince George's County Public Schools who did not meet state graduation requirements in order to inflate our graduation rates. We look forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter."
Hogan says he doesn't know how this could be politically motivated with the wide-ranging calls for an investigation.
"The members of the Prince George's County School Board and members of the Prince George's County house delegation and the members of the Senate from Prince George's County are all the ones that are asking for it," Hogan said. "And we reluctantly agreed to ask for it as well. But it didn't originate with our office and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with the kids in Prince George's County get the opportunity to have a great education."
Stay with FOX 5 for the latest on this developing story. Contact the reporter at Lindsay.Watts@foxtv.com.
Governor Hogan's letter to the Maryland State Board of Education President: (app users: Click here to read)
Governor Hogan's letter to members of the Prince George's County School Board: (app users: Click here to read)