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State Board of Education backs criminal probe of Durham charter accused of granting unearned diplomas

Members of the State Board of Education agreed Monday that the Durham district attorney should carry out a criminal investigation of a Durham charter accused of granting dozens of improper diplomas over the last two years.

Monday’s unanimous vote followed last week’s recommendations from the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB), which also included a move to reconsider granting a new 10-year charter to Durham’s Kestrel Heights School.

As Policy Watch noted earlier today, the K-12 school has reportedly handed out at least 53 diplomas since 2014 to students who had not earned enough credits to graduate. 

The allegations prompted a stiff rebuke from the CSAB, which also placed the school on the state’s “governance noncompliance” listing. Dave Machado, director of the state’s charter school office, said that was “the highest watch list” for charters.

The recommendation also directs the Durham school to conduct an investigation of the matter and prepare a full report by January.

Monday’s vote came despite reservations from state board member Tricia Willoughby, who questioned why the case was being referred to the district attorney’s office without state officials conducting their own investigation.

“This is a much bigger ball of wax than I even imagined,” said Willoughby. “How do we make sure that we have compliance? This is a lot of students and a lot of state tax dollars now.”

However, CSAB member Steven Walker pointed to a state statute covering the falsification of documents at a secondary school.

“We thought it’s important for the district attorney to investigate to see if that statute had been violated,” said Walker. “We don’t think anyone at (the N.C. Department of Public Instruction) is prepared to do a criminal investigation.”

According to The News & Observer, the problems at Kestrel Heights were self-reported by the school’s new administration in October, after discovering the issue over the summer.

Machado said Monday that, following the allegations, a school guidance counselor resigned and the principal’s contract was not renewed.

The school’s current state charter is set to expire next June.

 

 

 

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