DC Council Holds Public Roundtable on Ballou High School Graduation Scandal

The D.C. Council hosted a public roundtable Friday allowing students, parents and teachers to discuss a grade manipulation scandal that allowed over 100 students to graduate despite chronic absences and failing grades.

Ballou High School has been under investigation after every senior graduated and was accepted to college from Ballou High School, a southeast D.C. school with a chronically low graduation rate

An investigation by WAMU and NPR showed only 57 of the 164 who received diplomas were on track to graduate. Half of the 2017 graduates were counted as absent for more than three months of the school year but were allowed to graduate anyway, the report said. 

Some teachers also reported they were pressured to change failing grades to Ds so students could pass.

The council's education chairman said that the council is looking into it and that it’s not just about Ballou.

"Ballou High School’s community did not create their present day dilemma,” Council member David Grosso said. “It operates in an inherited public education system steeped in segregation in the District of Columbia and the entire country.”

Some at the roundtable said they worry all of the progress at Ballou could be canceled out by bad perceptions and bad numbers.

"Misses 60 days of school, it doesn’t mean they missed 60 full days of school,” Ballou teacher Shajena Cartagena said. “It could mean that the missed first period five times or maybe they left early to take care of a younger sibling so they missed the last period five times, and so I believe it’s an inaccurate picture, and so that’s some of the inaccuracies and not true telling behind it.”

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said he takes the matter personally.

"Are we doing enough to respond to the needs of students on the threshold of drop out and failure, particularly those that are chronically absent or carry multiple failing grades,” he said. “All of these questions and especially the last touch on the question that matters most to me” Are we giving our students what they need to succeed.”

The principal of Ballou High School was reassigned, and a successor was named acting principal as a review of the school's graduation rate continued.

Wilson said Dr. Yetunde Reeves was assigned to another function in the district, and Willie Jackson would serve as acting principal. 

“We take this issue very seriously, and we know that policies must be explained clearly and implemented with fidelity. This investigation will restore integrity to the process by providing students, parents, and the broader community with answers,” Wilson said.

Investigations into the matter are ongoing, and there are indications the school system could possibly change the way absences are tallied at Ballou and schools throughout the system.

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