CHAPEL HILL — A school employee was suspended without pay and another employee resigned last year over an incident that led to rumors of preferential treatment for student-athletes at Chapel Hill High School.
An investigation found four incidents in which failing grades were improperly omitted from end-of-year transcripts, but concluded the omissions were unintentional, Superintendent Tom Forcella said.
One of the transcript incidents and another unrelated incident involved Tigers football players who were recruited to play college football. Both involved course recovery, or a make-up class – one for a student whose original failing grade was incorrectly expunged from his transcript, another for a student enrolled in an online make-up course for a class he was currently taking, without the teacher’s knowledge.
Rumors of grade tampering surfaced during two Chapel Hill High teachers’ recent appeals of their involuntary transfers to other schools.
Linda Klemmer, a guidance counselor at Chapel Hill High School, brought improper grade entries to school leaders’ attention during the spring semester of 2012.
An investigation found that Chapel Hill High School’s data manager had made the errors unintentionally when entering end-of-semester grades, Forcella said.
“We didn’t find any intent, there was just not attention to detail,” Forcella said. An examination of transcripts going back several years found four instances of F’s not entered alongside a make-up grade, he said. There was no pattern involving student athletes, he said.
Nevertheless, the data manager was suspended for two days without pay, he said.
“Whenever you talk about grades, we cannot leave anything to chance,” Forcella said.
In a memo, Klemmer said she noticed that a Feb. 24 transcript for a student – a 2012 graduate who received a football scholarship – was missing an F that had appeared in a Jan. 12 transcript.
“I noticed that his earned credits and potential credits were equal and knowing that (student) had failed several classes I realized this was incorrect,” the memo states. “The Data Manager then came and joined us and the (assistant principal) over Counseling repeated what (she) had said about the process and the Data Manager said yes, that NCWISE (the software system) allowed you to use tricks to get rid of the Fs potential credit and raise the GPA.”
“The Data Manager said that teachers, coaches and even students have come to her for help as counselors did not do all that they could to help students get into college,” the memo says.
Klemmer resigned over the incident March 11, citing a lack of support and leadership.
After the district’s investigation, Forcella said, the department held training sessions for data managers at all three high schools to make sure they enter both original failing grades and credit recovery grades on students’ transcripts. He said omitting an F would have made little difference in any student’s final GPA because an online course might raise a final grade from an F to a D and because the change would be factored into all the courses the student had taken.
Jerri Humphries, the Chapel Hill High data manager, referred questions about the incident to Forcella. Ivry Cheeks, an assistant principal at Chapel Hill High last year, also declined to comment.
In 2011, English teacher Anne Thompson alleged improper assistance to another football player at the school, in the form of an online course he was allowed to take as insurance against a failing grade.
Thompson said the principal’s office set up an online course for the student and told him not to tell her about it. Thompson said she confronted the student about not doing work in her class and he told he was going to pass anyway.
The student, who was recruited to play college football, could not be reached for this story. He eventually did pass Thompson’s class on his own, but not until the online course was brought to light as the reason he had temporarily stopped doing the work in her class.
Thompson, one of the two Chapel Hill High teachers who recently challenged their transfers to other schools, said she furious with the principal’s office for keeping knowledge of the online course from her and brought the matter to the district offices at Lincoln Center.
“You’re setting him up for failure, to go to college and not study and work and be successful on his own.” Thompson said she told Chapel Hill High School’s principal at the time, Jesse Dingle.
The head of the English department at the time, Susan Oliver, described a meeting with Thompson and Dingle after Thompson found out about the remedial program. She confirmed the student was told to continue attending Thompson’s class but “not to tell Anne” that he also was taking the online class.
Forcella said it’s not unusual for a student to take an online recovery course at the same time as the original class. He said he could not confirm if the student was told not to tell Thompson.
Coach Issac Marsh, head of the athletic department at Chapel Hill High School, could not be reached for comment, nor could Dingle, now the principal at John Handley High School in Virginia.
In an interview, Forcella discussed an incident involving a football coach who asked for and obtained a copy of a potential recruit’s transcript. Forcella said this may have led to rumors that the coach had asked for the student’s grades or transcript to be changed.
“There was a college that was interested in one of the athletes,” Forcella said. “The coach went to see the counselor, the counselor wasn’t there. … He asked to see an unofficial transcript.”
Forcella said the coach brought the copy of the transcript to the student athlete to show him his current academic standing and tell him what he would need to do to be eligible as a recruit.
“What we heard was that there were transcript changes for an athlete,” he said. “We investigated, talked to everybody involved, took a look at the transcript. There were no changes. The insinuation came about because the coach had been seen talking to the data manager.”