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VOL. 132 | NO. 157 | Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Grade-Changing, Misconduct Probe Continues

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Schools board members will likely get a briefing this month from the three outside attorneys investigating allegations of misconduct by school officials that were made by a former high school principal.

“What we know happened was there were report cards with the right grade and somebody was directing people in the office to change the transcripts.”

Shelby County Schools superintendent

SCS superintendent Dorsey Hopson says there is no set time frame for concluding the investigation.

“You go where the facts lead you,” he said before Monday’s opening of the school year. “We obviously have been very transparent in saying we want to figure out what happened. We certainly wouldn’t say to someone, ‘Hurry up and get it done.’”

Former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton, who is now with the Butler Snow law firm, is leading the trio of attorneys investigating allegations made in a six-page resignation letter in June by former Trezevant High principal Ronnie Mackin.

Stanton is overseeing the investigation by labor and employment attorney Paul Lancaster Adams of Ogletree Deakins’ Philadelphia office, and former FBI agent and former assistant U.S. Attorney J. Scott Newton of Baker Donelson’s Jackson, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C. offices.

Newton is investigating allegations of kickbacks to teachers and school system staff. Adams is investigating allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

Stanton and Newton have broad authority in conducting the investigation and making recommendations to Hopson, the school board and anyone else they deem necessary outside of the school system.

Adams has similar broad authority, but his work is considered attorney work product because it involves potential civil litigation.

The independent investigators have set up a hotline and email account for anyone with information about the alleged irregularities to talk directly with them.

The hotline is 901-680-7277 and the email is SCSInvestigations@butlersnow.com.

There is a separate audit going on of grade transcripts by the school system and the Tennessee Department of Education triggered by fallout from Mackin’s discovery of changed grades late last year shortly after his arrival at Trezevant.

“What happened at Trezevant … was very specific,” Hopson said last week. “It wasn’t that people were changing grades on report cards. The allegation was that somebody was taking the grade on the report card and then changing the transcript.”

Hopson said grades were changed on the transcript as Mackin reported then, and a school system investigation led to the attendance officer at Trezevant who was allowed to resign. But it wasn’t until last month that the attendance officer implicated former Trezevant High football coach Teli White in the grade-changing scheme in a television interview. That prompted the school system to again suspend White last month before he could begin his tenure as football coach at Melrose High School.

“What we know happened was there were report cards with the right grade and somebody was directing people in the office to change the transcripts,” Hopson said last week. “The transcripts went out to colleges and football teams and things of that nature. They didn’t match what was on the report cards. There’s a full process for it. … It just wasn’t followed here.”

Following Mackin’s report late last year there was another allegation of grade-changing at another school that prompted the larger audit.

Then in June, Mackin resigned after being Trezevant’s principal for only one year. He alleged in his resignation letter more grade changing and broader allegations involving teachers, school system officials and other schools.

“There were a lot of people that kind of threw out a lot of issues,” Hopson said last week of the aftermath of the initial report late last year at Trezevant. “There are a myriad of instances where changing a grade is appropriate. I’m confident in the processes that we had. … There was no ‘aha’ moment. We just need to consistently make sure that we follow the rules.”

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