By Ben Velderman
BRADENTON, Fla. – Illegally changing student grades has claimed the career of another educator, this time in Florida.
Catherine Smith, a principal with the Manatee County School District, resigned earlier this month following a two-month, internal investigation into charges that she altered student grades, reports the Bradenton Herald.
Details of the investigation were finally made public Friday.
According to investigators, “Smith instructed the school’s testing coordinator, Hope Lutz, to enter grades for missing assignments to make sure no student failed just because they had a substitute,” reports the Herald-Tribune.
The excessive number of classes being led by substitute teachers was a major problem for Smith’s Southeast High School last year. By Smith’s own admission, many students were being taught by substitute teachers who were not certified in the subject areas they were teaching.
It was a “school in turmoil,” reports the Herald-Tribune.
Investigators say that Smith’s decision not to fail any student because of the school’s chaotic conditions led to students being given “arbitrary grades based on assignments that had not been issued and work that had not been performed,” reports the Bradenton Herald.
The grade-inflating practice came to light after Mike Buckley, an agri-science teacher, “saw a student who he awarded a failing grade receiving her diploma,” the Herald-Tribune writes.
Buckley later checked the grade, and found it had been changed to a D.
“He confronted Smith, who told him she had awarded the grade because it was missing and she could not reach him,” reports the paper.
Buckley reported Smith to the district, resulting in the investigation and ultimately her resignation.
Since Smith resigned instead of being fired, she will continue to receive her pay and benefits from the district through the end of October. Smith is battling cancer, and is scheduled to have her final chemotherapy treatment in October, the Herald-Tribune notes.
Cheating should never be tolerated in our schools, and Smith’s resignation seems appropriate.
But what should trouble the community even more is the culture of a school in which teachers are gone for extended periods of time, resulting in classes being taught by unqualified subs.
Taxpayers should demand to know the reason for the excessive absences. Is it because the teachers’ contract gives educators too many paid sick and personal days each year? That’s a common problem in public schools throughout the nation.
Community members also need to know why the staff is turning over like a “roulette wheel,” as Smith described it to investigators.
Smith’s behavior was inexcusable, but until the school board answers some fundamental questions about what’s going on in their district, they will be failing their students in a manner far more serious than recording phony grades.