Prince George's school board chair seeks whistleblower info from board members in grade-fixing audit
WASHINGTON - Prince George's County Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell dodged questions from FOX 5 at an event Monday, but on Tuesday, he won't be able to avoid county leaders and state legislators who have concerns about an audit of county high schools.
The audit found that students are graduating without meeting state requirements -- some who had more than 50 unexcused absences. The audit also found that in the last two years, grade changes from failing to passing are common, even after deadlines. The report found no evidence of system-wide intimidation or fraud.
Dr. Maxwell will meet with members of the Prince George's County Council as well as county members of the state legislature.
For now, Dr. Maxwell continues to have full support from the man who hired him. County Executive Rushern Baker defended Maxwell's performance as head of schools on FOX 5 News Morning.
"I said at the very beginning of this investigation, if there was a sign that there was direction from Dr. Maxwell's office or his key staffers to have these grades changed or have anything like that, not only would Dr. Maxwell go, but his key staffers would go," Baker said. "The report did not find that."
It was several Prince George's County school board members who asked the state for the audit, saying they had evidence of systemic fraud to boost the graduation rate. Board member Edward Burroughs said Monday he still stands by the claims.
"To believe that this could be taking place at so many schools and no one knew anything about it is laughable," Burroughs said. "It's actually disrespectful to the teachers and guidance counselors that have had to endure this nightmare."
A letter to board members who asked for audit
Burroughs and board member David Murray say they continue to get information from whistleblowers within the school system, and told reporters Friday they had new details to bring to light.
Soon after, both received a letter from the board chair and vice chair stating that per board policy, they must turn over whistleblower information pertinent to the audit.
"The Board is committed to providing the full extent of protection to each whistleblower as provided for under state and local laws and will fully investigate any and all complaints," the letter reads. "If you fail to disclose any of this information by noon on Monday, November 6, 2017, we will refer a recommendation for action to the full board."
Burroughs and Murray turned over no information Monday.
"Under no circumstance, no matter what, will we betray our whistleblowers," Burroughs said.
Both Burroughs and Murray reiterated their intention to protect the whistleblowers' trust in an appearance on FOX 5 News Morning on Tuesday.
"There's a reason they didn't feel confident and comfortable with coming forward internally. They feared retaliation, and I think the board chair is essentially trying to shoot the messengers, and he's trying to retaliate against us for exposing their wrongdoings," Burroughs said.
Murray said their focus is on getting the best education for the county's students.
"If we don't speak out about it, no one else is going to, so it's about our students at the end of the day," Murray said.
"I honestly believe that Dr. Maxwell knows the truth," Burroughs said. "He's just repeating a talking point at this point. He keeps calling it poor recordkeeping. Graduating students that don't meet the requirement for graduation isn't poor record keeping. Allowing students to graduate when they've missed over 50 of days of school is not poor recordkeeping. Forcing teachers to change grades is not poor recordkeeping. Tampering with documents days before the investigators came to the school is not poor recordkeeping. And so Dr. Maxwell knows what the truth is. We all do. I just think that he's trying to hold on."
Board chair: Letter was not in retaliation
Board chair Segun Eubanks said he was not seeking retaliation in writing the letter.
"When you are a member of this board, there are certain obligations you have, by policy and law, and we just want him to fulfill those obligations," Eubanks said.
Eubanks said there was no action planned against Burroughs and Murray.
The back and forth is nothing new. Eubanks and the majority of the board were initially against the audit Burroughs and Murray requested, and stated they were confident nothing would be found. Eubanks continues to say that the investigation should have been handled internally, not by the state.
"I know you've been critical of the process and critical of the board members, but they prompted all of this to be exposed. Isn't that moving in the right direction?" FOX 5 asked Eubanks.
"So yes," he replied. "You can prompt things and see results that matter by doing it divisively or you can prompt things and move things in the right direction by doing it collaboratively and doing it the right way. And I don't think those things are mutually exclusive."
He went on to say, "Now we know, and we are sobered by the results and we are going to take them very seriously."
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued this statement on Eubanks letter to Burroughs and Murray:
"The obvious implications to this letter are very concerning and the administration will continue to call for these whistleblowers to receive the full protection they deserve under the law."
Gov. Hogan told FOX 5 on Saturday that he was outraged by the audit's findings.
FOX 5's coverage on grade-fixing allegations in Prince George's County Public Schools:
Prince George's Co. grade-fixing report says 5 pct of students in sample shouldn't have graduated
Final report for PGCPS grade-fixing probe submitted to Maryland State Board of Education
Whistleblower says employees worked to change students' records before grade-fixing investigation began
Maryland State Department of Education seeks info from public for PGCPS graduation rate probe
Investigation into allegations of fraud, grade-fixing in PGCPS to begin 'immediately'
State Board of Education votes to launch Prince George's County Public Schools grade-fixing probe
Gov. Larry Hogan calls for state investigation into alleged corruption in PGCPS
Md. Gov. Hogan explains why he requested probe on grade fixing allegations against PGCPS
PGCPS board members claim graduation rate 'fraudulently' elevated, call for state investigation
Staff members speak out about pressure from Prince George's Co. Public Schools to graduate students
State investigated grade changing in Prince George's County Public Schools earlier this year
Maxwell: PGCPS grade fixing allegations 'completely and utterly false'
Prince George's County schools CEO denies any fraudulent effort to inflate graduation rate
Rushern Baker says he stands by PGCPS Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell
Prince George's County NAACP asks county executive to not renew contract of Dr. Kevin Maxwell
Prince George's County Public Schools CEO meets with Md. lawmakers about concerning allegations
Prince George's Del. Walker hopes grade fixing allegations are false, but there's a lot of smoke
Sen. Muse condemns Prince George's County alleged grade fixing