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Parents Ask for Probe of Grade Alterations

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of Pomona parents has asked the Los Angeles County district attorney to investigate grade changes on permanent transcripts made by a high school principal for two students, one of whose mother sits on the Pomona school board.

District attorney’s investigator Frank Mendibles said Wednesday that his office will interview a representative of the parents to assess whether an investigation is needed. If the district attorney’s office proceeds with an investigation, a spokesman said, it will assess whether there was a misdemeanor violation of the state’s Education Code.

The parents and some teachers at Ganesha High School have also called for an independent audit of all student transcripts to determine whether any other grades were changed. But the district has refused, saying it is conducting its own audit. District Supt. Irv Moskowitz said that audit has failed so far to turn up any additional irregularities.

Moskowitz added that the district plans to take some undetermined disciplinary action against Ganesha Principal Tony Lopes. Moskowitz said the action could range from a letter of censure to firing, a decision the school board would have to approve.

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Lopes reinstated the original grades May 8 after two teachers discovered the changes and told their union, which then told the district. In an internal memo to Assistant Supt. William Pitts, Lopes acknowledged he had used “poor judgment.”

This week, both the school board and the Associated Pomona Teachers Union said they are satisfied with the way the district has dealt with the grade changes at the 1,500-student high school.

But the case has tempers flaring in Pomona, a community that already has its share of trouble with gang activity and campus crime. The school district, which has 25,442 students, recorded 744 assaults last year and confiscated 95 weapons--the highest crime rate among San Gabriel Valley school districts.

Parents say the grade-changing incidents further erode morale and the school’s credibility.

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“I have two children at Ganesha who are working really hard, and I don’t think it’s fair for someone else to have their grade altered and beat out my kids,” said parent Ernestina Ferguson.

Others in a group of about 30 parents expressed disappointment at the response by school officials. “I am appalled,” said parent Marva Helms. “The board isn’t taking note of what’s actually happening in Pomona.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board issued a statement saying that the other four members “deeply regret that the incidents at Ganesha happened and will deal with them fully.”

But the board stopped short of condemning Lopes’ actions. And it declined to censure Linda Wright, the board member who at first said she was unaware of her son’s grade change, then admitted she had gone to Lopes and requested it.

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As a result of Wright’s intervention, Lopes changed her son’s chemistry grade for last semester from a C-plus to a B-minus.

Wright could not be reached Wednesday. But in a prepared statement issued earlier, she said, “My son’s final examination grade . . . was the highest A received by any of the students in Ms. Smith’s three chemistry classes. Therefore I, as a concerned parent, requested a review of his academic record in that chemistry class and that an appropriate remedy be applied.”

School Board President Nancy McCracken said, “Sometimes it’s difficult to separate being a parent from being a board member. It’s an art you have to learn.”

In response to this and another grade change in which Lopes replaced an F in a pre-algebra class with a D-plus, McCracken said the board has requested “a tightening of the monitoring we have always done” to protect teachers and students from undue influence by board members or administrators.

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On Wednesday, Lopes apologized to the Ganesha faculty and told teachers he was appointing a committee of department heads to address concerns about grade changes and meet with him each week, said Ganesha teachers union representative Mike Hopwood.

But Hopwood, who also is the teacher of the student whose pre-algebra grade was changed, said, “We’re not going to accept anything but (Lopes’) removal.”

And at least one parent who campaigned to get Wright elected last fall says her group plans a recall campaign. “We fought to get Linda in office, we walked precincts and handed out flyers, and we kind of feel betrayed,” Helms said. “This is the same type of political thing we were fighting against.”


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