By Jerry Bohnen
Special to The City Sentinel
The Oklahoma Department of Education, responding to the growing scandal at Frederick A. Douglass High School in Oklahoma City — a situation whose details have been revealed by The City Sentinel — has discovered in an audit, that 81 percent of the 107 students set to graduate next spring, don’t meet the required credits.
“I’m very upset — it was sickening,” said Dr. Karl Springer, Oklahoma City Superintendent of Schools. He spoke at an afternoon news conference where board of education chairwoman, Angela Monson attempted to smooth things over with angry parents whose calls for changes in the past few years prompted a district and federal investigation in the past several months.
“Rest assured,” said Monson. “As soon as we determined the needs of the students were not met—we took action.”
“I’m gonna call you a liar,” cried one angry woman who lives near the Douglass High School. Raynetta Dennis-Jamison stood up and charged, “You’ve known of this problem since 2008 and 2009.” As her voice grew louder, she turned to the TV cameras and shouted, “They lie.” That’s when a plain-clothed police officer tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to leave.
The findings came in a State Education Department audit of the Douglass seniors.
It discovered 87 students did not meet the requirements to be able to graduate next spring. Monson and Springer blamed violations of policies and procedures, but neither would offer any detailed explanation whether that involved grade changes or alterations of attendance by students. Both declined to blame former Douglass principal Dr. Brian Staples, who resigned Nov. 15 following a several month long investigation ordered by the school district last May after parents angrily raised their allegations.
Monson only wanted to speak of helping the students. “We’re poised and ready to make recommendations to the legislature. We are very concerned — it’s very serious,” she said in announcing the creation of a plan to work with each student and parents in helping reach the graduation requirements.
Can the blame be put on the shoulders of Dr. Brian Staples? “We can’t go there,” said Springer and Monson, noting that at least one investigation, by the U.S. Department of Education, is still underway.
Well then, where can the blame be placed? “The buck stops with the school superintendent,” Springer said quickly. “It happened under my watch.”
School district officials pointed out, audits are carried out every year in the district, but they admitted one had not been conducted in some time at Douglass.
“There were no prior audits there and we want to make sure it never happens again,” promised Monson. But no one had answers to other questions, including how long had the policy and procedure violations been happening at Douglass. Monson, in closing the news conference said it would serve no purpose to audit previous graduating classes. “It’s time to help the students and we have full confidence in our superintendent. This is going to be hard work.”
The hard work involves recently held meetings when Barbara Davis, the interim principal at Douglass Mid High School, met with faculty and told them of the challenge. Meetings will be held soon with every senior and his or her parents. “The findings are disappointing, but we have a plan in place and we will do what it takes to support each student,” she said. It means shifting the school’s master plan, requiring night and weekend classes for the seniors and possibly even a summer graduation for those who can’t meet the springtime graduation requirements.
While Monson and Springer did not want to lay any blame on Dr. Staples and the way he ran the school, that’s clearly the implication from the findings of the State department audit.