Teacher alleges her ouster tied to blowing whistle on students’ failing grades being changed

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/7/2019, 6 a.m.
A first-year Spanish teacher who blew the whistle on a grade cheating scandal at Lucille Brown Middle School is to ...

A first-year Spanish teacher who blew the whistle on a grade cheating scandal at Lucille Brown Middle School is to be fired.

The teacher, who does not want her name published, was notified May 24 in a letter from Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras that her contract to teach would not be renewed, though the School Board has yet to receive his recommendation that she be terminated.

While RPS does not comment on personnel matters, the letter raises questions about whether the firing is in retaliation for the teacher exposing the scandal.

Documents recently obtained by the Free Press show that, by late January, Mr. Kamras had been informed that staff at the middle school had changed the teacher’s Fs to Cs for some students after the first grading period in November. To date, nothing has changed for those implicated in the grade changes. 

The documents include copies of an email on the grade changes that Mr. Kamras acknowledged receiving, as well as RPS grade documents showing the grade that the teacher submitted and the improved grade that was listed on a failing student’s report card.

The teacher, who previously taught in Miami, was notified she could appeal her termination, but elected not to begin the process.

The Free Press was alerted to the grade-change allegation on Jan. 18 and initiated an inquiry to the middle school’s principal, Dr. Stacy Gibbs Gaines. According to information the Free Press received, Dr. Gaines allegedly authorized the grade changes, although there was no evidence to support that allegation. 

Kenita Bowers, then RPS spokeswoman, issued a statement to the Free Press on Jan. 24: “Our investigation concludes that these allegations are inaccurate. The principal has confirmed that she did not have any involvement in a situation of this nature nor does she engage in the practice of changing grades.”

In the statement, Ms. Bowers also said “there is zero tolerance for the practice of unethically changing grades in Richmond Public Schools.”

The allegation was revived after the Free Press received documents in mid-May that show student grades in the teacher’s Spanish classes were changed between the time the teacher submitted the grades and the time report cards were issued to students Nov. 12. 

An updated statement from the teacher provided to the Free Press this month also points the finger at an assistant principal. According to the statement, the assistant principal directed the teacher to change the Fs earned by the students to Cs. The statement also notes that another staff member who works with the school’s counselors also told the teacher that the grades would be changed and, when the teacher disagreed, warned her not to do anything.

According to emails sent to Mr. Kamras Jan. 25 and Jan. 26, the initial January inquiry from the Free Press had repercussions.

The emails show that the teacher had been assigned a mentor at the beginning of the year to assist the teacher with creating lesson plans, developing class projects and becoming more successful in classroom management.

Soon after the Free Press inquiry, the teacher was told she was ineligible for a mentor and the logs of the assigned mentor’s work allegedly were erased.

The teacher also reported being harassed by the middle school’s administration beginning in late January and expressed concern then that a paper trail was being created to justify her firing at the end of the year.