PGCPS board members claim graduation rate 'fraudulently' elevated, call for state investigation

Several Prince George's County school board members are calling for a state investigation into what they say is "widespread systemic corruption" in the school district.

"Specifically, the altering of student credit counts and the changing (of) student grades in order to fraudulently boost the high school graduation rate from school year 2014 to present," reads to the letter sent to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

The letter, signed by board members Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed and student member Juwan Blocker, goes on to say that whistleblowers at almost every level in Prince George's County Public Schools "have clear and convincing evidence that PGCPS has graduated hundreds of students who did not meet the Maryland State Department of Education graduation requirements."

Raising graduation rates has been a top priority for PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell. The district celebrated significant gains earlier this year with more than 81 percent of seniors graduating in 2016, the highest number since 2010.

FOX 5 has spoken to multiple school employees including teachers, guidance counselors and record keepers. They say there is pressure to graduate students regardless of whether they have earned a diploma. Three employees, who work at different high schools, spoke to us on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

"They are banking everything on graduation rates and things of that nature," one teacher said. "So there is incredible pressure coming from the central office onto all of the principals at all the schools to push kids through whether they really earned the credits or not."

"It comes down from the county, that comes down to the principals, that comes down to the staff," said a guidance counselor.

"It's, 'What are you going to do to make sure that they pass,' rather than, 'What are you going to do to make sure that they learn,'" said another teacher.

Dr. Maxwell declined an interview, but said in a statement:

"I am aware that four Board of Education members sent a politically-motivated letter to the Governor regarding Prince George's County Public Schools' (PGCPS) graduation rate. These claims are an affront to the hard work of our teachers, administrators, students and parents over the last few years. I categorically deny any systemic effort to promote students who did not meet state graduation requirements.

Prince George's County schools have much to celebrate this graduation season: more than $151 million in scholarship awards, acceptances to our nation's finest colleges and universities, certifications to help students embark on challenging careers. We remain focused on improving students' lives and preparing them for opportunities beyond high school. We welcome the Maryland State Department of Education to fully explore this matter."

Gov. Hogan's office confirmed the letter was received.

"The allegations are very concerning and they have been forwarded to the Maryland State Department of Education," said Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, in an email.

Stay with FOX 5 for our full investigation Monday night at 10 and 11 p.m.