BALTIMORE - The Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to launch a third-party investigation into claims of grade fixing and other fraud in Prince George's County Public Schools.
FOX 5 broke the story that teachers and staff members report being under tremendous pressure to increase the high school graduation rate. Some say they have personally been told make sure grades are changed for failing students. Four Prince George's County school board members contacted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to say they have evidence of "widespread systemic corruption" in the school system.
After FOX 5's report, Hogan called for a thorough, exhaustive investigation.
"A lot of people are demanding answers and we think we need to get to the bottom of it," Hogan told FOX 5. "If the concerns are true then this is a serious problem, but either way we've got to get to the facts so we want to get it done as quickly as possible. But we want to do as thorough as a job as we possibly can."
The state board of education, which oversees the Maryland State Department of Education, said it will hire an outside organization to the conduct the investigation.
In January, the Maryland State Department of Education conducted an investigation into grade-fixing in Prince George's County Public Schools, but according to records, the state investigator spoke only to schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell and four district staff members Maxwell recommended. The investigation found no wrongdoing.
Until now, Maxwell and the majority of the school board have maintained that investigation should stand. But in a letter dated Tuesday, they called for the state to investigate. It was read by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon at Tuesday's meeting.
"This letter is to serve as a formal request for a follow-up investigation by the Maryland State Department of Education into allegations regarding the Prince George's County Public Schools' high school graduation rates since my arrival," the letter reads in part.
In the letter, Dr. Maxwell continued to deny that he or others working for him are promoting students in order to inflate the graduation rate.
Andrew Smarick, the president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said the state will need to hire an outside organization before the investigation begins.
"We want to expedite it because there are so many questions about this and so much rides on it, but we want to do it prudently, thoughtfully - but do it as quickly as we can," he said.
Smarick said it is too soon to say what the investigation will entail and how many people will be involved.
"We just have allegations at this point," Smarick said. "We don't have any evidence yet. We are taking it very seriously. We want to talk to as many people as necessary to get to the bottom of it as quickly as we can."
Gov. Hogan's deputy communications director Amelia Chasse said in a statement:
"The State Board of Education's unanimous vote today is a positive step forward toward fulfilling the governor's request for a full and impartial investigation of these troubling allegations to ensure that all Maryland students are getting the high-quality education they deserve."
Sarah Leonard, a recent graduate of Prince George's County Public Schools said she is in favor of an investigation and hopes it is finished quickly. She said she has questions about how the number of graduates increased over the last few years.
"It's great that so many people graduated, but did our reading scores go up? Did our math scores go up? Did our attendance go up?" Leonard asked.
She said while she wants to get to the truth, she also feels this is putting her own diploma into question.
"People are like, 'Oh, did they earn their diplomas at Prince George's County?'" she said. "And that's not fair to all of the people, like all of the people who graduated this year and years past who worked really, really hard to get those diplomas."