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Baltimore City School Board Candidates Call For Investigation Following Audit Of Grade Changes

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Two candidates for the Baltimore City School Board of Commissioners called for a public apology and investigation of the school system after a state audit revealed multiple Baltimore high schools changed more than 12,500 failing grades to passing over a several-year span.

Michael Eugene Johnson wants to know the fates of the children who we said were socially promoted through the school system.

"Where are these children? he asked. "What are the plans in place to help those that we feel that they have had a crime committed on them?"

Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, a community activist and candidate for the board, demanded accountability from Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises, referring to allegations in the report that principals and teachers felt pressure from administrators to change grades.

"Let me be clear, if you are hired to perform a job, and you do not do it adequately and sufficiently, somebody has to be held responsible and somebody has to be held accountable. Let's be clear, a $375,000 salary a year, the citizens of this city have a right to demand accountability," he said, referring to Santelises' pay.

In 2022, the city school board will expand from 10 seats to 12, per the Baltimore Teachers Union, and the two new openings will be filled during the upcoming election rather than mayoral appointments.

Johnson and Witherspoon are among eight candidates for the board, according to state election board records.

Johnson called for further changes to the makeup of the board, saying there should be an additional four elected spots on the ballot in the 2024 election.

On Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan referred the audit of what he called "a massive grade-fixing scheme in Baltimore City Public Schools" to the Maryland State Prosecutor and Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office for a criminal investigation.

"The report reveals a staggering level of disregard for the integrity of the educational system and a clear lack of accountability at the highest levels. For years, the school system has denied and dismissed allegations of grade fixing, and tried to sweep it all under the rug," Hogan said. "None of this should be allowed to happen in any school system, let alone in one of the most highly funded large school systems in America. All involved in this culture of corruption must be held accountable."

Investigators' findings were based on a combination of documents, including emails exchanged by district and school staff, and interviews with educators and administrators, some of whom the auditors' say were reluctant to speak out of fear that it could cost them their jobs.

"A culture of fear and a veil of secrecy affected the BCPS system and kept many from speaking freely about misconduct," the report states. "Regrettably, these actions delayed the completion of this investigation and hindered the truth-seeking process."

Patterson High School had the highest number of changed grades (1,390), followed by Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School (780) and Digital Harbor High (592) during the period under examination, according to the audit.

The school system has called the report "perplexing" and said the grade-changing incidents "occurred more than 3 years ago," before many current seniors were in high school.

In interviews with investigators, school administrators, including Santelises, denied knowing of any pressure put on principals to change grades.

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