UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Two members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education say they’re being retaliated against for speaking out to reporters in the wake of a report that showed flaws in grading policies and practices that even the board chairman called “significant.”
The report, released Friday, showed that the graduation eligibility of hundreds of high school graduates over the past two years couldn’t be verified.
On Monday, School Board member Edward Burroughs shared a memo sent to him and fellow board member David Murray dated Friday, calling on the pair to turn over information they had regarding grading policies, including the names of “whistleblowers who have information regarding the audit.”
The memo from board chairman Segun Eubanks and vice chair Carolyn Boston warned that if Burroughs and Murray didn’t comply with handing over any and all information they might have regarding concerns over grading policies, including names, by noon Monday, “We will refer a recommendation for action to the full board.”
The action the board could take was not specified in the memo, but on Monday afternoon, Eubanks told reporters that action could include censure, a letter of disapproval or recommendation for removal.
The pair did not comply, Burroughs said. It’s not clear what action will be taken.
Burroughs told reporters the memo is a clear example of why so many whistleblowers are so afraid to come forward. He said it appears that the school system is attempting to make an example out of him and Murray.
The message, says Burroughs: “If you do come forward with information, and it is verified, you could be placed in harm’s way, and that is so unfortunate.” Murray, who, like Burroughs, has been critical of the administration and of his fellow board members, said, “We’re very troubled that when they should be focusing on the massive graduation rate issue in the county, they’re focused on attacking us personally, which is a theme across PGCPS.”
Eubanks vigorously disagreed. He said Burroughs and Murray were free to speak out, as they did after the release of the audit on Friday.
But Eubanks said the two were bound by school board policy: “They don’t have the right under policies and procedures that they agreed to as sitting board members to conduct their own investigations, to collect their own evidence, and to not share that evidence with the administration and with school board members.”
Eubanks said staffers or members of the public concerned with school operations should feel free to contact the school system through “proper channels.” He added, “We have a full and confidential process for whistleblowers with our own hotline and our own internal audit.”
Burroughs’ response to the board’s assertions that whistleblowers would be protected was blunt: “The internal channels don’t work.”
Burroughs told reporters that he had been hearing from teachers, guidance counselors and even central office staff over a period of months, but had to coax them to share what information they had. He said they were extremely fearful. So in response to the memo, he said Monday, “Under no circumstance will we reveal our whistleblowers to Prince George’s County Schools’ leadership,” said Burroughs.
Murray said the information they have from whistleblowers should not be turned over to the local school board. He said he and Burroughs will share the information they have with the Maryland State Department of Education, which commissioned the independent audit released on Friday.
The MSDE gave the Prince George’s County school system 60 days to respond with a plan to tighten up controls on grading and clean up what school CEO Kevin Maxwell conceded on Friday was “some sloppy record-keeping.”
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