Scoring Our Schools: Staff finally serving punishment, six years after data scandal

(File photo: WSYX/WTTE)

A data-scrubbing scandal that left the entire Columbus City Schools district with a black eye happened more than six years ago, but several of the principals and administrators accused of reversing grades are just now serving their punishment.

According to public files reviewed by ABC 6, the Department of Education struck a deal with the majority of the 66 administrators identified by the Ohio Auditor's Office. The last deal on record was signed by both administrator and State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria in February of 2018. Last summer, State Auditor David Yost blamed the Department of Education of dragging its feet in the massive data-scrubbing case and launched a new audit into its discipline and licensing practices.

"I was outraged," Yost told ABC 6/FOX 28. "You know who should be angry especially is every kid who did go to school, who did do the work to earn the grade."

While former Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Gene Harris faced a judge on criminal charges back in 2013, dozens of other administrators remained in the classroom. ABC 6 uncovered these higher-ups received a suspended sentence, which many will serve during the 2018 summer break. They were also allowed to keep their teaching or principal licenses, and ordered to undergo ethics training and community service.

The Ohio Department of Education declined an on-camera interview in this matter, so ABC 6 tracked down Superintendent DeMaria at the state school board meeting in early May. When asked about the seven year delay in the punishments for all identified administrators, DeMaria said "We prioritize the most challenging and the most egregious instances at the front end."

He said his investigators were continuing to work on the less severe cases but needed time to confirm facts and work with the educators' attorneys.

"Again, this is a rare occurrence, a lot of people, interesting and debatable facts," said DeMaria. "We stand behind our work. We think ultimately justice has been served."

Many parents aren't happy with the punishment that's finally being served years later, including a father who sued the district after his daughter was penalized. Jonathan Beard claimed the scandal cost him $15,000. He said the school for which his daughter is zoned, East High School, had a "D" performance grade from the state instead of an "F" due to the data-scrubbing. A failing performance grade would have made her eligible for a $5,000 state voucher to help send her to a private or parochial school.

Beard sent his daughter to Bishop Hartley High School starting her sophomore year, paying the bill without the voucher.

"If it was someone who was selling dope on the corner, they'd be punished. They'd throw the full book of the law at them," said Beard. "But these administrators sitting up there with white collar jobs, nothing happens to them."

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