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Teachers Cite Grade Changes by Principal : Education: Ganesha High School Principal Tony Lopes is accused of altering final grades for two students without notifying the teachers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two teachers at Ganesha High School have alleged that their principal altered grades on report cards last March for two students, one of whose mother sits on the Pomona school board.

Mike Hopwood, a math teacher who is a union representative at the school, asked 40 to 50 teachers at a special faculty meeting Thursday to check their records to determine whether any other grades have been altered.

Hopwood and science teacher Jamie Smith, who also alleged that one of her grades was changed, said Principal Tony Lopes reinstated the original lower grades Tuesday after the teachers complained to their union and to the district superintendent. Hopwood and Smith said Lopes attributed the incidents to poor judgment and inaccurate information.

Lopes, who wasn’t at the faculty meeting, did not return repeated phone calls.

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But in an interview, Pomona Assistant Supt. William Pitts denied that any official grade changes took place. “You saw something that indicated the grade should be changed, but that didn’t happen,” Pitts said. “We can’t really change grades, except for certain reasons.”

He added that “Mr. Lopes thought there had been a clerical error, and he attempted to correct that error.”

Copies of transcripts provided to The Times appear to show that final grades for the fall semester for two students were changed in March. And in both cases, the forms approving the grade changes bore what appeared to be Lopes’ signature. And in both cases, the teachers said Lopes failed to notify them about the grade changes.

In a copy of an internal memo obtained by The Times that appears to have been written and initialed by Lopes, the writer admitted the grade changes and attributed them to poor judgment.

“The two grade changes I made following the first semester have been corrected back to the grade given by the two individuals,” the memo said.

“This error on my part was due in part to some inaccurate information given me in one case. . . . Both students and parents have been advised of my action and poor judgment.”

The incidents came to light nine days ago, when science teacher Smith was reviewing a student’s academic file and discovered a handwritten entry changing the student’s final chemistry grade from a C+ to a B-.

Smith said the change allowed the student, whose mother sits on the Pomona School Board, to qualify for the honors program.

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The school board member, Linda Wright, said she was unaware of the grade change on her son’s report card and declined further comment.

Smith, who asked Lopes for an explanation, said the principal at first told her that he thought he had discussed the grade change with her at a parent-teacher conference. Later, Smith said Lopes told her that he changed the grade because Smith failed to give adequate weight to the student’s chemistry final in determining the overall grade.

Smith notified union representative Hopwood, who checked his records and found records indicating that Lopes had changed an F Hopwood gave in a pre-algebra class to a D+ without notifying him.

“We don’t know how extensive this is, but we’re outraged,” Hopwood said. “It completely undermines and perverts the educational process.”

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California’s Education Code says teacher grades are final except in cases of teacher fraud, clerical error, bad faith or incompetence on the part of the teacher, according to lawyers for United Teachers-Los Angeles, the union for Los Angeles Unified School District teachers.

“In any case, if the governing body questions the grade, the teacher must be involved in the investigation,” said Catherine Carey, UTLA’s director of communications. “The principal cannot go in and just change the grade.”

Educators differ on the issue of whether, or how frequently, principals change student grades without teachers’ consent.

But “most of us agree that, ethically, you wouldn’t do that,” said Mary Ellen Parker, a spokeswoman for the National Assn. of Secondary School Principals. “I would hope the district would be looking to why that happened.”

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