Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Parents charge grade inflation

Walnut Hills group complains

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A group of Walnut Hills High School parents, students, teachers and alumni say Cincinnati's top public high school has been inflating students' grades, lowering entrance requirements, expunging records and committing other improprieties for at least two years.

The group, led by former city councilman and school parent Charles Winburn, has asked that Principal Marvin Koenig be reassigned while an investigation takes place. The group calls itself the Save Walnut Hills Committee/The Parents' Union.

Informed of the group's allegations, Koenig said: "As a new parent, Mr. Winburn needs to discuss concerns he may have with the school, parents or personnel so he understands the procedures of the school."

District officials said they have received the written complaint.

"As with all complaints, we will be looking into them," said Superintendent Alton Frailey.

Frailey met with Winburn and the group's attorney, Art Church, on Monday to hear their complaints. Winburn said the group represents hundreds of people, but he would not name them because he said they fear a backlash.

The group requested numerous actions, including an investigation of whistleblower complaints, an investigation of wrongful acts and establishment of an inspector general unit.

Walnut Hills, which opened in 1895, has more than 1,800 students in grades 7 through 12 and has a history of high-achieving graduates.

According to the complaint dated Feb. 12, the group has learned of instances in which Koenig allegedly changed students' grades. Winburn said he has a list of 21 instances of students' grades being altered.

"Only classroom teachers may award grades to students," Koenig said of that allegation. He said administrators are involved in the grade process only when scanning or other errors occur.

Winburn also says he has a list of 23 instances in which students were admitted to the elite public school without taking the mandatory entrance exam. Students were given special privileges to take the exam at a later date, the report says.

Koenig said students who are new to the district who missed the last summer testing opportunity are allowed to enroll in Walnut Hills based on their previous grades. They must take the next test possible and must leave the school if they fail.

Other allegations include several waivers of tuition for students who live outside the district and preferential treatment for some students who have been expelled for drug and alcohol offenses.

Winburn said the group has about 150 documents provided by parents, teachers, school personnel and outside agencies that appear to substantiate the allegations against Koenig and the school.

Among those, Winburn said, are copies of letters from teachers indicating to Koenig that they will not change a student's grade. There is more evidence that suggests the grades were changed anyway.

The report also says teachers have filed numerous grievances against Koenig for violating the collective bargaining agreement. The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers substantiated that claim.

Winburn said he would not produce supporting documents of alleged improprieties at this time because people associated with the complaint fear reprisals.

"We want written assurances that teachers, personnel and school counselors will not be fired," he said.

Wanda Murdock, a retired teacher who taught at Walnut Hills High for 24 years, said she never was asked to change students' grades but is aware of colleagues who have been asked by the school administration to do so.

"Especially in the last five to eight years that has been a request of the administration," she said.

Murdock said she knows of former colleagues who learned that grades they had given students were changed without their consent or knowledge.

Winburn said the group wants only to maintain Walnut Hills High School's national reputation.

"We believe Walnut Hills is a great school," he said. "However, we've got some problems."


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