BALTIMORE - The head of Prince George's County Public Schools faced the Maryland State Board of Education Tuesday, the first time since a troubling state audit showed grade-fixing and policy violations allowed students to graduate without meeting state requirements.
At the hearing, state board members pressed Dr. Kevin Maxwell on the root causes of the findings and whether there has been a shift in culture in the school system.
"It seems like something is going on here," said Maryland State Board of Education President Andrew Smarick. "I don't want to go too far, but it seems like some signal, something is happening to suggest to schools, to teachers, to someone, 'We gotta graduate these students irrespective of some of these rules we have.' And that is what I have been grappling with here."
Smarick noted some of the most outstanding audit findings -- grade changes that could not be verified, late changes to student transcripts and students graduating despite more than 50 unexcused absences.
In response to questions about the driving forces behind the audit findings, Maxwell spoke about staff confusion on grade change forms, lack of automation, high staff turnover and people who were not clear on policies. He emphasized the audit found no intimidation or fraud by him or his staff.
After the hearing, FOX 5 asked him again about the underlying causes of the problems uncovered.
"The audit, I think, gave us a very good roadmap to the fact that there are some issues that need clarification, there are some procedures that need to be updated, there is a lot of training and there are some compliance issues," Maxwell said.
At one point, a school board member asked whether emphasis on graduation rates by the state and federal government was to blame, but Maxwell did not agree that outside pressure was a factor.
Maxwell and his staff outlined their plan to correct what was found by the audit and the ways the school district is tightening up policies, putting more oversight in place and retraining staff.
Janna Parker, a Prince George's County community member who attended the meeting, said the plan is a good first step, but feels what she did not see from Maxwell was accountability at the top.
"I think when you base any plan on not fully accepting accountability or placing the accountability on who and where it needs to be, it's flawed plan," Parker said.
When asked about Gov. Larry Hogan's recent statement that some of what is going on in Prince George's County Public Schools is criminal, Maxwell said he did not agree with the governor.
Smarick said the state board is now going to decide how and if the state will intervene in the school system and what is legally possible. He said there should be decisions made by the next meeting in February.
There could be another audit, and while there has been no public talk of the state taking over Prince George's County Public Schools, it is something that's happened in other states.
After the meeting on Tuesday, the state released graduation rates for districts across the state. Prince George's County had a record high of 82.7 percent for 2017.
FOX 5's coverage on the Prince George's County grade-fixing investigation: