A tale of email

Credit: Mark Hancock

The hundreds of emails were obtained through an Oklahoma Gazette open records request submitted June 4. They were not released until October because of technical problems with the email system, according to Tierney Tinnin, a school district spokeswoman.

Staples resigned after the conclusion of a district investigation into allegations of altering grades and attendance records. While OKCPS administrators said most of the accusations were unfounded, they forwarded the results of that probe to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater as well as the state and federal departments of education.


What the emails say
Two emails to teachers referred to grade changing. Staples sent both the morning of Jan. 5, 2010 — one to Robert Hubbard and another to Charles D. Walker. Both contained the same statement in which Staples said he had reviewed progress reports and “determined the grade reporting is not compliant with the DHS [Douglass High School] standards based grade reporting and academic intervention plan.”

The principal made it clear
in the next sentence: “Semester grades for students with Ds and Fs have
been adjusted to C.” Staples asked each teacher to meet with him “to
review the DHS standards based grade reporting and academic intervention
plan and to develop an action plan that will assure these processes are
in place for the Spring 2010 semester.”

Those
changes might have been allowable. Tammy Carter, the general counsel
for OKCPS, clarified: “The DHS standards were a little different than
district standards. Because they are on a SIG [School Improvement
Grant], they were able to develop some standards that were different
than standards for the district in general.”

According
to the U.S. Department of Education, SIGs are considered a “key
component” of the Obama administration’s work to help states and
districts improve the nation’s lowestperforming schools.

Marcia
Muhammad, one of the fired administrators, called the emails “a smoking
gun” that proves Staples altered grades. She and others contend he also
changed attendance records to keep Douglass off any at-risk list
maintained by the state Department of Education.


Attendance policy questions
Another
Staples detractor, former OKCPS teacher Joe Quigley, said he thinks the
former principal did whatever he could to make the school look good,
even if it meant violating district policy.

“They
weren’t following his procedures and his procedures weren’t necessarily
legitimate,” claimed Quigley, who successfully sued the district for
wrongful termination — a case not involving Staples — and now teaches in
Boston.

Quigley had
his own differences with Staples and other administrators when he taught
at Douglass, as confirmed in 135 pages of emails he supplied.

“Playing
with grades is unethical,” Quigley added. “Playing with atten dance is
where it’s illegal because federal money is based on attendance.”

Brian Staples

He
said Staples violated state law and district policy in allowing
students who were within 20 minutes of reporting to class not to be
considered absent. In an Aug. 31, 2010, letter to Ed Allen, president of
the American Federation of Teachers in Oklahoma City, Quigley
complained that attendance policies varied from school to school. A week
later, he voiced another complaint about Staples.

“Please do not continue to send negative emails regarding Douglass students,” Staples responded in an email.

“If you do not have the skill set to meet the needs of our kids, please submit a transfer request.”

In
a Sept. 10, 2010, email to Allen, Quigley again said Staples’ policies
did not comply with those in the district manual. “Basically we are
continually held to ignore district policies and procedures on an
ongoing basis,” the teacher wrote.

On Sept. 14, 2010, he sent Allen another message complaining how teachers faced daily verbal and physical assaults by students.

“The conditions at Douglass are out of control, with students being held to the minimum of discipline,” wrote Quigley.

He
described a student attempting to smear blood on a teacher after being
asked to leave the classroom. “There is a lot of appearance here of
success, but it is based on cooked books (evidence available) and the
ever increasing paperwork teachers are required to do to give the
appearance all is well (or they face disciplinary action).”

Hey! Read This:

Jerry Bohnen

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