School board disturbed by report on Arlington Heights High School

FORT WORTH -- School board members said they are disturbed by the findings in a report about wrongdoing at Fort Worth's Arlington Heights High School, and some fear that similar problems may exist at other campuses as well.

Fort Worth school district officials recently released findings into a nearly five-month investigation at Heights that found manipulation of student attendance records, shoddy record keeping, inappropriate management and racially motivated student discipline.

Overall, trustees said the report was thorough, investigating dozens of allegations that led to even more allegations. They said individuals responsible for the problems will be held accountable, though they declined to discuss specific actions expected to be taken at next week's board meeting.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said the state has not yet officially received the district's report. The agency is conducting its own attendance audit in Fort Worth and is assisting in the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Right's investigation into concerns about the treatment of minorities at Heights, Culbertson said.

Some trustees worry that attendance fraud and other student data manipulation may be occurring at other schools, though they declined to name them.

"You have to wonder if that is culture that was at Arlington Heights or is it part of our district culture," Trustee Juan Rangel said. "I'm worried because I've had calls from others saying that these same things are happening at their schools. And it's not just an isolated call."Judy Needham, who represents the area including Heights, said no one was protected or shown favoritism in the investigation.

"Overall the report is very disturbing," Needham said. "I'm sorry it happened, but if our employees don't follow policies and procedures, then they need to be held accountable. This has been a wake-up call for a lot of people."

The investigation began when teachers brought forward concerns alleging that nearly two dozen students improperly graduated because their attendance records were altered.

While investigators did find that attendance records were altered, they said no student graduated as a result. However, they also noted that attendance credit was given to students for cleaning and doing chores, while state law dictates that they should be engaged in instructional activities.

The investigators found that one student may have improperly graduated because he may have lacked half a credit, but that could not be substantiated because credit recovery records were poorly kept.

Trustee Carlos Vasquez said the report is very involved but worried that it may not be complete because students were not interviewed to determine whether they improperly graduated.

"I don't think they know," Vasquez said.

Sylvia Reyna, who oversaw the investigation, said it was not necessary to interview students because the district used data and school records. She said one parent was contacted.

Vasquez and Trustee Ann Sutherland said they have heard reports of problems at other schools. Rangel said a review of the district's policies and procedures may be in order to help determine why those rules were broken.

District spokesman Clint Bond said that the district is not investigating any other school regarding attendance or credit recovery but that anyone who has information about potential issues is encouraged to notify officials.

Trustee Norm Robbins said that he has not heard of problems elsewhere but that it is important that employees feel they can report such issues

"It is imperative for our employees to be free of fear and retribution because we want people to report if they feel like there's something inappropriate or improper," Robbins said.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

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