Posted: Oct 20, 2011 11:49 AM
Updated: Dec 2, 2011 2:52 PM
WESLACO - CHANNEL 5 NEWS is asking questions about what's happening at a Valley alternative school. There are concerns about attendance and grading.
Veteran educators say they've had enough. They say administrators are pressuring them to "give passing grades" to at-risk students at South Palm Gardens High School.
The campus is cozy, comfortable and quiet. It's supposed to be a place at-risk students go to get back on track.
"At the beginning, it was very good," says one woman.
A longtime Weslaco educator says the good days are now gone.
"The students are being deprived of a quality education," she continues, "They're getting an education on how to cheat."
She's scared about speaking out, so we're concealing her identity.
"It's gotten out of hand. That is what is happening. It is getting out of hand. That campus is no longer for helping these at-risk students," she says.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS obtained a stack of papers from the school.
"I don't think T.E.A. has really been told," says the woman.
She says the documents show a pattern of problems. She has huge concerns about attendance.
"They're counting them present when they're not present. The teacher may mark them absent, but someone is changing those absences," she says.
Records show one student signed out supposedly, he left campus around 8. We reviewed the official attendance records for that day and found out that same student was counted present all day. Insiders say the district does this sort of thing all the time.
"That's federal. That's federal right there, ADA funding. And you do not mess with federal," says the woman.
Districts get paid based on the ADA, the average daily attendance.
"So you can go to the campus at any time and they may have 100 students enrolled, and when you get there, you'll see like 20 on campus," says the woman.
Jordan asks, "So where are the kids?"
"Where are the kids exactly, so they're faking attendance. Exactly," the woman answers.
She's also worried about the quality of their education.
Jordan asks, "Are they giving grades?"
She answers, "Yes they're giving grades."
Jordan asks, "Not earned grades?"
"No, they're not earned grades. They've giving them the grade, so they can get credit, so they can have another graduate - because that's what they're looking at at that campus. They want numbers," she answers.
She says teachers get pressured into putting down passing grades, and they even do something called cross averaging.
"Let's say last year they received a 60 for first semester and then this semester, which is now second semester, they receive an 80. Then they will cross-average that grade," she explains.
Documents we obtained confirm that's happening.
"If I were a parent, I would be appalled at everything that's going on," she says.
"Oh, it's extremely bad, it's extremely bad," says one parent.
The man also fears retaliation, so we've hidden his identity.
"We're not producing educated children to society. We're merely handing them a paper and sending them off their way ... To what?" he says.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS took our concerns straight to the district. Superintendent Richard Rivera agreed to meet with us. We showed him paperwork from 2008. He tells us the district has launched an investigation.
"This is an alternative school, and as superintendent, I will not allow anything that is not legal, that is not correct for us to do, and this is what the investigation is about," says Rivera.
We showed him exactly what we had.
Jordan says, "You have a kid who got credit for a class, semester A and semester B, on the exact same day. They filled out a first semester and second semester slips with grades that happen to average out to give him a passing score."
Rivera and his top administrators say teachers must sign affidavits verifying the accuracy of the grades and information given.
"We don't do anything illegal. And when I train people, I tell them, 'If we do something wrong, that's what we're going to report.' If T.E.A. comes back to us, we'll say, we made a mistake, we didn't know how to do it right," says Juan Ruelas.
Rivera defended the grade averaging we mentioned, and he promised to review irregularities in attendance.
"There are a lot of issues, but I want you to feel assured that we are looking into this," he said.
Also on his radar, allegations that dozens of students got diplomas and graduated without meeting the state's physical education requirement.
"We have an A-plus program where online the kids can gain only half credit of P.E. online," says Rivera.
Jordan asks, "How do you do P.E. online?"
"Well, the program allows it. The policy that we have allows them to get half credit through online," Rivera answers.
He promises to make sure no students have slipped through without meeting state standards.
"We'll go back; we'll go back and check to see," he says.
The educator who reached out to CHANNEL 5 NEWS says she has heard the superintendent's explanations before. She's not buying them.
"I think that T.E.A., the Texas Rangers, somebody needs to come in," she says.
She wants someone from the outside to ask questions.
"I mean, that school may be shut down," she says.
She wonders what a diploma from South Palm Gardens is really worth.
The superintendent issued a memo to CHANNEL 5 NEWS. He's requested an attendance audit for the past three years at South Palm Gardens. Rivera believes the attendance issues we told you about were isolated. He says the attendance audit will tell them for sure.
As for the documents we showed you, Rivera wants to know who printed them and why they waited two years to bring up these issues. He believes everything we told you about in our investigation has been addressed.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS contacted the Texas Education Agency. They didn't want to go on camera. A TEA spokesperson told us it's because there's a possibility that the agency could become involved in the "form of an investigation, audit or appeal" so they couldn't talk to us.
Count on us to follow up.