WASHINGTON - Some Prince George's County school board members say emails obtained by FOX 5 show the school district's central office pressured schools to graduate students who didn't meet requirements. However, the central office denies the claim.
The emails were sent by the district's data analyst, Anthony Whittington, a direct report to the deputy superintendent. The emails went to the principal and an assistant principal at DuVal High School, two of five employees removed from the school this week after Prince George's County Public Schools says they violated policies relating to grading and graduating students. Sources tell FOX 5 the other three employees removed are guidance counselors.
One email from May 2016 to the principal and assistant principal says, "At this point, your graduation rate is trending at 59%." It goes in to say 130 additional students need to graduate to meet the school's graduation goal. Weeks later, more than 92 percent of students graduated from DuVal.
"That 59 percent seemed to be a miscalculation," said Prince George's County Public Schools spokesperson John White.
He said this was not an issue with students not meeting requirements, but a likely error using a calculation tool that determines the graduation rate. When asked if he understands why people would question the numbers and the timeline he replied, "That's right, in isolation it doesn't make sense, which is why [Whittington] sent the email to see if he could help them use the tool and to get an accurate measure."
When asked whether everything in the situation was above board and legitimate, he said that it was.
A second email from Whittington went to the assistant principal a year later in April 2017. It says DuVal's graduation rate was only at 28 percent. White again said it was miscalculation and it would be impossible for the graduation rate to be so low.
He said it is unknown what caused the alleged miscalculations in 2016 and 2017.
"But what we do know is that he was not intimidating anyone," White said. "He says right in his email, 'How can I help you?'"
White says both emails demonstrate efforts only to correct the data, not fraudulently graduate students.
Last year, school board members Raaheela Ahmed, Edward Burroughs and David Murray contacted the governor alleging widespread, systemic fraud to boost the graduation rate.
"It's actually really disturbing to see what appears to be direction from central office around graduation rates at DuVal," Ahmed said.
"These emails are in line with what I have heard from several school-based employees, and that is they have received pressure from the central office," said Burroughs.
Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell has said there was never any direction from his office to fix grades or fraudulently graduate students. A state audit found students graduating without meeting requirements at high schools across the district, but did not find it was directed by Maxwell or his staff.
"Personally, I am upset but not surprised," said Murray. "I think that it was naive for the school district to try to convince us that school-based employees across the system were acting on their own and poor judgment. I think it has been clear to us for a long time the pressure had to have been applied from the top, and that is now clear today in written emails."
After the staff shakeup at DuVal, sources tell FOX 5 there is fear in the high schools that additional staff will be terminated.
"I have no way of knowing that," said White. "But as Dr. Maxwell has said, if there is evidence of intentional wrongdoing, changes will be made."
Next week, Maxwell and his team will go before the Maryland State Board of Education to present their corrective plan following the state audit.
FOX 5's coverage on the Prince George's County grade-fixing investigation: