UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - There were high tensions at a jam-packed Prince George's County Board of Education meeting Thursday, the first board meeting since it was made public that several board members have contacted the state alleging widespread corruption in the school system.
For the first time, Prince George's County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell spoke publicly about allegations of grade changing and fraud to boost the graduation rate. However, he continues to refuse to speak to FOX 5 and answer our questions.
"There has been no systemic effort ordered by me or others working on my behalf to promote students in order to inflate graduation rates," Maxwell said. "The false allegations about our graduation rates strike at everything that Prince George's County Schools stand for - past, present and future. These allegations denigrate why teachers teach and why principals lead. They are a personal attack on every teacher, counselor, administrator and employee in this system."
Prior to the meeting, there was a rally that included teachers, activists, parents and the four board members who wrote letter to the governor asking the state to investigate what they call "widespread corruption" that allowed hundreds of students to graduate without meeting state requirements.
FOX 5 has spoken to numerous teachers and school employees who say the board members' allegations are correct.
"Since we made those allegations, there is not a day or a few hours that go by that we don't get additional people coming forward," said school board member Edward Burroughs.
At the rally, a parent in the crowd spoke about her daughter.
"My daughter graduated with a 3.7 [GPA], sitting on distinguished row and had to take remedial classes for a year," said Donna Young. "There is something wrong with this picture."
The group went into the board room singing, "We shall overcome." The seats were so hard to come by that some had to wait in the hallway.
In the crowd were people on both sides of this issue. Some want a state investigation while others agree with Maxwell that there is no possibility of wrongdoing.
A group of principals stood together to refute the allegations during public comment.
"As an educational professional, shouldn't we want to set the bar for graduation within the grasp of our students?" said Dr. Tracie Miller, principal of Gwynn Park High School. "But now, when we are finally gaining momentum, when we are finally seeing the fruits of our labor, some want to question or cast doubt on our students' accomplishments."
Employee union leader Shirley Kirkland also spoke.
"Proven or not, it is a fact that some parents know that their children didn't attend school but maybe 60 days out of 108," Kirkland said. "So how did they graduate? Explain the passing grade without enough attending days."
More people wanted to speak, but an effort to extend public comment was denied by the majority of the board.
Every day this week, FOX 5 has asked the Maryland State Department of Education if it will investigate, but the department continues to decline comment.
A spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says the governor's office is "continuing to look into this." She says the governor is out of the country, but will be in touch with FOX 5 when he returns.
FOX 5 continues to investigate this developing story. Contact the reporter at Lindsay.Watts@foxtv.com.