13 Clayton High graduates got diplomas they didn’t earn this year, investigation finds

Thirteen Clayton High School students received diplomas this year who didn’t earn them, according to the results of an internal investigation announced Friday by the Johnston County school system.

In a statement Friday, Johnston County school leaders say that 13 Clayton High seniors who graduated in the 2018-19 school year did not have enough credits to meet graduation requirements. The district says it notified the state Department of Public Instruction on Friday and is contacting each of the students to provide them resources to help them in resolving the requirements.

“I regret this situation with these students and assure them that JCPS will do all that we can to provide them every opportunity to meet these graduation requirements,” interim Superintendent James Causby said in a statement Friday.

Causby was named interim superintendent after Superintendent Ross Renfrow announced his retirement in August.

School officials say that schools are required to verify their graduation data in a report to the state each year. In this case, the district said they determined those 13 graduates did not have either the minimum 22 credits required by the state or the 28 credits required by Johnston County to graduate.

The district says that as part of its ongoing review it’s also looking at previous graduation data at Clayton High to see whether students met requirements.

In August, Clayton High principal Bennett Jones was reassigned to a job in central office in what district leaders called a “personnel matter.” Jones had been the school’s principal since 2016 and was Johnston County’s 2017-18 Principal of the Year.

Jones has filed a grievance about his reassignment.

Students and parents had rallied around Jones demanding he be brought back as principal.

This isn’t the first time that a North Carolina public school was determined to have improperly awarded high school diplomas. In 2016, Kestrel Heights Charter School in Durham said at least 53 students had been improperly awarded diplomas. The state would later strip Kestrel Heights of its high school program.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.