Schools chief studies results of investigation

Inquiry focuses on officials accused of altering grade

Pair claim no wrongdoing

O'Rourke is `prepared to act' this month

Howard County

February 10, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said yesterday he is "prepared to act" this month on the results of a $40,000 investigation into allegations of improper grade changing at Centennial High School by two top education officials.

Anyone shown by the investigation to have acted improperly could face discipline or termination. The investigation concluded late last month.

"I am studying the report and making sure I have all the information I need," O'Rourke said. He had promised the Board of Education he would make recommendations Feb. 26 but said yesterday that he will try to speed up the process.

"We are obviously very anxious to get this moving forward" and wrapped up, said Courtney Watson, chairman of the school board, who had not seen the report nor been briefed on its findings.

O'Rourke launched the investigation Dec. 4 after accusations surfaced that Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham had strong-armed transcript changes for a relative at Centennial High with the help of Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett.

Statham and Plunkett strenuously deny the charges and have said the investigation will clear their names. Both were publicly accused in a widely circulated anonymous letter outlining the allegations from someone claiming to be a Howard teacher. Its author also faces accusations - of violating student privacy laws for naming the child involved.

Through her attorney, Ron Cherry, Statham said yesterday she could not comment. But in a statement released last month she said: "At the appropriate time, I will, as is my responsibility as a public official, provide a full and candid accounting of what has transpired."

Plunkett could not be reached for comment.

The two-month investigation, conducted by Chesapeake Investigative Associates Inc., a private firm, involved interviews of more than 30 people by four investigators, who spent from 500 to 600 hours collectively ferreting out the details, said Thomas R. Cherigo, a 30-year FBI veteran who oversaw the project.

"You can imagine in the scope of this investigation, a lot of stuff developed that was insignificant. Nevertheless, we still had to pursue it," Cherigo said. "It really wasn't excessive. It just takes a long time to do a thorough job."

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