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Investigation finds Peekskill students got fake credits

January 22, 2013 3:27:29 PM PST
Some Peekskill High School students may not be able to graduate on time after school officials determined they received credits for classes that didn't exist.

Superintendent Jim Willis sent a letter to parents Monday in which he described the ongoing investigation into at least 34 students whose transcripts will be turned over to the Westchester County District Attorney's Office for a possible criminal investigation.

He said the irregularities seem to stem from class credit that was issued for something called a "Co-op class," which appears to have been a legitimate work-experience course in the district that was discontinued a few years ago. Additionally, and to a lesser extent, Willis says officials isolated a number of cases in which credit was seemingly granted inappropriately for other courses.

For most of the impacted students, removal of the illegitimate credit will have no bearing on their ability to graduate. A smaller group will need to finish additional coursework and successfully pass all classes to graduate on time, and the remaining students will require additional courses over the summer and/or another semester beyond this year in order to graduate.

Willis says all of the affected students' families were notified through a hand-delivered letter on Friday, January 18, and follow-up phone calls are being made to schedule individual conferences.

The investigation is ongoing, and all 800 transcripts of current high school students will ultimately be reviewed to isolate and resolve any existing irregularities.

Here is the full text of the superintendent's letter:

Dear Parents,

More than one week ago, we alerted our community to transcript irregularities that had been discovered for a number of high school students. As a result, we began an investigation into the nature of the irregularities, with an eye toward resolution of individual discrepancies as required.

The necessary first phase of this investigation focused on an examination of the transcripts of each of our students who may be eligible for graduation in June 2013. Our preliminary findings indicate that the transcripts of at least 34 students contained irregularities that must be addressed.

The bulk of the irregularities emanate from class credit that was issued for something called a 'Co-op' class, which appears to have been a legitimate 'work experience' course in the district that was discontinued some years ago. As a result, our preliminary findings indicate that students were being provided with course credit for a non-existent course. Additionally - and to a much lesser extent ' we have isolated a number of cases in which credit was seemingly granted inappropriately for other courses.

For a portion of the impacted students, removal of the illegitimate course credit will have no bearing on their ability to graduate, assuming passage of their classes in the second semester. A second group of these students will require personalized solutions (of additional course work) and successful passage of all classes in order to graduate in June. A third group of students will require additional coursework over the summer and/or another semester beyond this year in order to graduate.

All of the affected students' families were notified through a hand-delivered letter on Friday, January 18, and follow-up phone calls are being made to schedule individual conferences beginning Tuesday, January 22. All conferences must be completed before Monday, January 28th, which is the start of the second semester.

Our investigative efforts are ongoing. All of the approximately 800 transcripts of our current high school students will ultimately be reviewed to isolate and resolve any existing irregularities. We may also ultimately look at the data of recent graduates as well, largely to assess whether this practice took place in prior years, not because graduates of the school district would face any potential impact to their degrees.

To date, we have not identified any specific common thread among the impacted students, other than the fact that the bogus credit seemed designed to help students meet graduation credit requirements. Upon the advice of our legal counsel, our findings will be turned over to the Westchester County District Attorney for potential criminal investigation.

We are doing all we can to forcefully address this matter for current students. I want to assure our students and families that as of Tuesday evening, the Board of Education will begin appointing replacement guidance counselors to restore normal operations in the high school guidance department. In concert with our high school administration, they will work aggressively to address the needs of both the impacted students and all members of our high school family.

The Board of Education and I, along with my administrative team, are absolutely appalled by what we have discovered. This won't be tolerated. Moving forward, I am organizing an internal protocols team to assess the current transcript review processes and to make recommendations to ensure something like this can never happen again.

Sincerely,

James Willis

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