WASHINGTON - Prince George's County Public Schools has submitted its corrective plan to the Maryland State Department of Education after a damning state audit found nearly 30 percent of graduates in a sample group did not have records to show they were eligible to graduate.
The day the action plan was released, FOX 5 uncovered shocking new information - that top leadership knew of problems with students graduating without meeting requirements and records mismanagement more than a year and half ago after the school system performed its own internal audit.
Those internal audit findings went to Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell and school board chair Segun Eubanks in May 2016, but neither mentioned the findings after four board members wrote a letter to the governor over the summer asking him to investigate grade fixing to fraudulently boost the graduation.
Instead Maxwell, Eubanks and other board members adamantly denied there was a problem.
In a statement to FOX 5 last June, Maxwell said the board members' letter was "politically-motivated." He said publicly days later that "the false allegations about our graduation rates strike at everything that Prince George's County Schools stand for."
In August, he called the allegations "reckless."
After the state audit was released in November, Maxwell said the accusations were "not about improving the system," but "trying to disrupt and turn over leadership."
At the same press conference, Eubanks said, "Many of these issues could have been addressed with the board's own internal auditors in collaboration with leadership. It's our understanding that when said and done, this [state] audit will cost about a half million dollars. We believe similar conclusions would have been reached at a much lower cost."
Meanwhile, there was no mention that the school system's internal auditors had actually already done the work more than a year prior and found that problems existed with records of graduating seniors.
The significant boost in Prince George's County Public Schools' graduation rate in recent years has been Maxwell's signature achievement and part of the reason County Executive Rushern Baker extended his contract four more years, with an annual compensation package of $450,000.
Last week, FOX 5 pressed Maxwell about his prior knowledge that students were graduating without meeting requirements.
"So I knew that the [internal] audit found that there were cases," he said.
When asked why he called the board members allegations "political" and did not present the internal audit findings when the allegations were made, Maxwell responded, "There's a difference between the what and the how when we do audits and we do things to improve our practices. And we do a lot of audits."
Later that night at the school board meeting, Maxwell said others on his staff had been tasked with responding to the audit and no one told him that a plan to fix the problems had not been implemented.
"My job in a system this large requires that there is a delegation of responsibilities and duties and there are other people to whom those responsibilities for responding to those audits were delegated," Maxwell said.
The state audit, performed by D.C. consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal, was finished at the end of October and found Prince George's County Public Schools "does not consistently monitor adherence to grading policies and procedures," that "grades are regularly submitted and changed after quarterly cut-off dates, and "a significant number of 2016 and 2017 graduates had unlawful absences," with some graduates missing more than 50 days. It did not find there was system-wide intimidation or corruption to boost the graduation rate.
Edward Burroughs, one of the four board members who said there was top-down, widespread corruption to boost the graduation rate, said he still stands by those claims.
"When you are graduating students that don't meet the requirements knowingly, that is the definition of wrongdoing," Burroughs said. "I refuse to believe that these career long educators in these 24 schools all decided to graduate students that did not meet the requirements for graduation at the exact same time in the exact same way."
Meanwhile, the questions and anger from parents is not going away, with some calling for Maxwell to resign.
One mother spoke angrily at last Tuesday's board meeting about how allegations of problems were strongly denied by the CEO, board chair and the majority of the school board - even with the existence of the internal audit.
"I saw board members tweeting and giving interviews, talking about how wonderful and how great and how honest and how transparent leadership of PGCPS was, and how these allegations were false, and how they were lies," said Janna Parker. "And yet you knew the entire time when you were getting up here and doing your press releases that you were misleading the public and you were lying."
FOX 5's coverage on grade-fixing allegations in Prince George's County Public Schools: