“We have retained an investigator,” said Tammy T. Carter, general counsel for the school district. School officials said a private attorney is conducting the probe, but declined to release further details.
Some parents have complained that their children are being advanced through the school system without being educated. They have accused Principal Brian Staples of being responsible, adding that they are standing up for teachers who were fired for fighting what they claim is a scandalous system at Douglass.
A group of black teachers, aides and others contends they and “dozens of others” have been fired by Staples, who is white, since 2008 because they refused to change failing grades and poor attendance records to make the school look good. Many have signed affidavits pursued by Jacque Pearsall, an attorney who originally filed suit in December of 2010 on behalf of several Douglass workers who claimed they were fired for refusing to sign off on improved grades and attendance records.
One of those is Marcia Muhammad, a former Douglass assistant principal fired in 2010. Pearsall later withdrew the suit without prejudice and has until late this year to re-file it.
Muhammad’s son and two others are facing criminal charges of attacking and injuring Staples after the school board unanimously voted to fire the woman upon Staples’ recommendation. In the March 2010 assault, Staples was hit with a baseball bat by two men allegedly hired by Elijah Muhammad, 31.
Pearsall has employed the assistance of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its vice chairman, Roosevelt Milton, who addressed the school board June 4.
“The NAACP is very serious about these complaints,” Milton told board members. “We also want you to know we’re determined.”
Armed with affidavits
Staples’ accusers contend he has lied about grades and attendance records to burnish his reputation and keep the school off a state list of at-risk schools.
“We believe we have a principal falsifying records,” said Pearsall. “He’s passing students through the system to make the school look better and to win state championships.”
Pearsall has a number of signed affidavits from former Douglass students, teachers and employees.
Muhammad, the former assistant principal, contends Staples set up a program to hide failing students.
“During the 2008-09 school terms, Principal Dr. Brian Staples taught and instructed all the administrators to drop students if they missed one day of school. I knew that this policy was implemented at Douglass High School to make attendance records better than it really was,” she stated in her affidavit.
She cited an alleged case of one 10th-grade student who had all C’s in spite of a poor attendance record. Muhammad said she spoke to the student’s science teacher, who had brought records to show the student was supposed to have a D in that class. And Muhammad said she learned of other teachers who submitted failing grades only to have them changed to C’s by Staples.
Denise Baccus-Bowie, a veteran schoolteacher who said she was asked to resign at the end of the 2010-11 school year, charges that Staples was behind a system of changing F’s to C’s. She maintains that less than one-third of Douglass’ freshman class was tested in Algebra I in 2009-10, and the rest of the class had been put into math enhancement at the direction of Staples.
In her affidavit, former music teacher Annita Lewis provided copies of failing grades she had submitted for more than a dozen students in the fall of 2010. On most, she had written: “F, no participation. No Grades. Excessive Tardies & Absences.” Lewis also said some failing students were removed from classes on test days and put into her choir where they were “hidden.”
Among the angry parents is Donita Wesley. “I am writing to inform you that my son’s grade had been changed from the original grade,” she wrote. “Even though it was of benefit to us, the next school year we noticed that was changed. He was given an F for a choir class and it was changed to a C.”
Some former students have raised allegations, too. TeonTez Fortune, a player on the Douglass football team, claimed in his affidavit that he failed a geometry class and was never placed on the ineligibility list.
“I was given a C average passing grade for the semester and allowed to pass for the semester I had failed,” said the young man, who graduated in 2010.
Two other Douglass graduates maintain Staples was responsible for grade changing.
School district spokeswoman Tierney Tinnin issued a statement indicating that officials “do not want to jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.”
She went on to quote district Superintendent Karl Springer: “The Oklahoma City public school district is working with a third-party investigator to gather information regarding the allegations. District leaders will take the necessary actions pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Tinnin said Staples would not be available for comment.
Pearsall said she is intent on finding more former teachers and employees who lost their jobs and are willing to step forward with allegations against Staples.
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