PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. - Allegations of grade fixing to boost graduation rates in Prince George's County Public Schools have left many people concerned, including the entire Prince George's County Delegation in the General Assembly. Last week, they wrote a letter to the State Superintendent describing their concerns about claims of grade fraud in the school system, citing FOX 5's reporting. FOX 5 reporter Lindsay Watts and photojournalist Van Applegate broke this story.
On Sunday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called for the Maryland State Board of Education to conduct a "complete, thorough, and exhaustive investigation" into allegations of fraud and corruption in Prince George's County Schools. Del. Jay Walker, who is the chair of the Prince George's County Delegation in the Maryland General Assembly, joined FOX 5 in studio on Monday morning to share his concerns and what he hopes will happen next.
"I hope these findings are all false. Our Prince George's County teachers work so hard. We work so hard for funding from the whole state of Maryland, to make sure Prince George's County kids have a shot, and we just hope this is all false-- but there's a lot of smoke," Walker said.
Amid the claims that teachers and couselors were asked to change grades to boost the graduation rate in Prince George's County schools, there's an obvious looming question: is there evidence? Since the story first broke, Del. Walker told FOX 5 he has been stopped in the grocery store by teachers who tell him kids have graduated, and they don't know why. Walker said he's had trouble sleeping since the allegations surfaced because it's so disturbing to him.
When he first heard that the graduation rates had reached record highs, Walker said he was excited.
"Now I'm starting to question-- are these real graduation rates, or is that just a show? That's why I think it's so important to find out the truth."
There was a previous investigation into allegations of grade fixing, but Walker and his colleagues are concerned that the first investigation wasn't as thorough as it should have been.
"If you're going to investigate something, do it thorough-- a thorough investigation, particularly when you're talking about education and what's at stake here," Walker said.
Teachers and staff, Walker said, take great pride in the Prince George's County Public School system. He added that he doesn't think teachers are the focus of the grade fixing allegations, indicating it could be higher up than that. But if students have been graduating when they shouldn't have been-- in Prince George's County, or any county in the state-- Walker said we need to find out why.
"At the end of the day, you want to get to the truth. If we don't get to the bottom of it, I think we're doing a disservice for everybody," he said.
Prince George's County Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell has denied the claims, calling them politically motivated.
"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 at Thursday's school board meeting.
In a statement Sunday, Dr. Maxwell responded to the governor's call for an investigation:
"From the beginning, I have maintained that politics lie at the root of these accusations. There has been no systemic effort to promote students in Prince George's County Public Schools who did not meet state graduation requirements in order to inflate our graduation rates. We look forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter."
Walker said the Prince George's Delegation has tried to meet with Maxwell to discuss their concerns, but he cancelled a scheduled meeting with them last week and rescheduled for the end of July. The delegation then offered to meet with Maxwell anytime this week, but Walker says they haven't received a response to that request.
"This is important," Walker said. "So, if the Governor has the Maryland State Board of Education involved, I'm hoping that they can get the answers that the Prince George's Delegation tried to seek out on its own."
Maxwell has the support of the majority of the school board, and last week, those nine members wrote their own letter to the state blasting the grade changing claims. After news broke Sunday that Gov. Hogan had asked the State Board of Education to step in, Prince George's County School Board Chair Segun Eubanks tweeted the following: "What a shocker. Republican Governor who has cut millions from Prince George's County Public Schools now joins those doubting our students' achievements."
But in Monday morning's interview, Walker said he doesn't think this has anything to do with politics.
"You don't play politics with kids or education at all," Walker said in response.
"Education should not be politically motived, so I don't see that at all. I kind of find it offensive when that's being said," he added.
During his interview, Walker thanked FOX 5 for bringing the issue to the forefront, saying he hopes the school board will get behind the investigation and just show the evidence.
"If there's nothing to hide, show it," he said.
Walker says the Prince George's County Delegation plans to stay on top of allegations and a possible forthcoming investigation.
"At the end of the day, it's all about answers."
Governor Hogan's letter to the Maryland State Board of Education President (app users: Click here to read)
Governor Hogan's letter to members of the Prince George's County School Board (app users: Click here to read)