Oakland Mills grade changes investigated

Howard system probes if player became eligible when failed classes fixed

No authorization by teachers

7 wins forfeited

teacher who left school spurs look

High Schools

November 21, 2003|By Rick Belz and Tricia Bishop | Rick Belz and Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Howard County school system officials said yesterday that they have been investigating improper grade changes at Oakland Mills High School after it was discovered a student's marks were altered - without teacher authorization - to make him eligible to play football.

Results are expected as soon as this afternoon, said assistant superintendent Roger L. Plunkett, who's heading the inquiry.

Oakland Mills forfeited seven regular-season victories and its first-round state playoff berth Nov. 13, and soon after football coach and athletic director Ken Hovet was placed on administrative leave with pay.

"You cannot have a student getting a grade change without documentation that work has been done and some attempt has to be made to involve the teacher," Plunkett said, adding that forms must be completed that involve the principal.

According to Plunkett, principal Marshall Peterson reported last week that a player should have been declared academically ineligible at the start of the season. However, two of the student's grades were changed in late August, and he was allowed to join the rest of the team at practice. The player, who transferred to Oakland Mills in the middle of last year, played sparingly in five games.

A failing grade given by teacher Tim Dahle, who left the school in June, was changed after being authorized by Peterson for acceptable academic reasons, Plunkett said. Peterson could not be reached yesterday for comment.

"A principal has the right to make a grade change based upon teacher performance," Plunkett said.

But a second change to a grade from a drama class taught by Stacie Lanier was "very suspect," Plunkett said. It was that change that ended Oakland Mills' season.

Lanier, who also is no longer at the Columbia school, said: "I haven't approved or signed a student's grade change form since ending my employment July 1, 2003."

Lanier added that she has "consulted with an attorney and I wish to be cooperative, but I am operating under his advice. I hope this gets cleared up as soon as possible."

Howard County regulations require a student to maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average and have no failing grades from the prior semester to participate in athletics.

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the county school system, said that student records must be kept in a secure room with limited key access - that the principal (or designee) and registrar must be the only personnel who have keys.

Howard County school system guidelines state that "grade changes on a student's permanent record card are to be made by the registrar only. The person requesting the grade change must complete a grade change form which states the course name and number and the reason for the grade change. Parents should be notified of the grade change. The principal [or designee] will sign off on the grade change before the registrar makes the change."

The current investigation started when Dahle, a technology education teacher, complained to Plunkett early in September that a former student whom he had failed in a spring class was playing football. Because that technology education class was not offered in summer school, the student could not have made up the class and Dahle wondered how he could be participating.

Dahle, who said he first went to Peterson but never got a response, said that Plunkett took "two to three weeks to get back to me." Plunkett said he did try to respond to Dahle quickly, but that the two were playing "phone tag." He eventually reached Dahle.

"When he did, he [Plunkett] said the player was legitimately on the team," Dahle said.

"He told me everything was fine, but I knew it wasn't true," said Dahle, a retired Anne Arundel teacher who worked one year at Oakland Mills as a temporary teacher.

Dahle said he then contacted school board member Sandra French, who forwarded him to Mark Blom, the school system's chief of staff.

"I talked to Mr. Blom's assistant on the phone and a few days after that I heard the team forfeited its season," Dahle said.

Dahle also said that Hovet contacted him in late August about whether the football player could make up the work and get the grade changed.

"I told him no," said Dahle. "He [Hovet] then told me that he had nothing to do with this, that Marshall [Peterson] told him to put the kid on the team."

Hovet declined to comment.

Blom credited Dahle with triggering the investigation, but said that other information beyond what he had reported was uncovered and that caused the player to be declared ineligible.

"We went beyond what he reported," Blom said.

Plunkett said that last spring's report cards from all students participating in extracurricular activities are being reviewed at Oakland Mills.

"We could do spot checks elsewhere," Plunkett said. "I hope this grade changing is not rampant. We don't want a witch hunt."

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