It's Time to Account for Grade Tampering : Brea Olinda High Principal's Actions Were Inexcusable and Should Bear Consequences

The apparent failure of the Brea Olinda High School principal to alert his superiors as soon as he learned of illegal changes to student transcripts was inexcusable. If an investigation now underway does not cast a more favorable light on Principal John Johnson's inaction, the school board will have to think twice about keeping him in the post.

The school board learned in May, after a teacher filed a grievance because of the issue, that about 55 members of the class of 1994 benefited from grade changes, allegedly performed by counselors who have left the school. The reason given by administrators was usually to improve the students' chances of getting into college.

But last month, school records and interviews conducted by The Times showed that about a dozen members of the class of 1993 graduated without meeting the school's requirements due to transcript changes. That is outrageous.

The district provided some of its records only after The Times invoked the California Public Records Act to obtain them. The records and interviews show that hundreds of students received credit for taking the same courses twice, had poor grades changed to simple "pass" and had evidence of failures removed from their records.

Johnson said he learned of transcript changes in July, 1993, but did not order the practice halted until that October. A school board trustee charged that Johnson never told his superiors. District Superintendent Edgar Z. Seal, who has since retired, said he received a letter alerting him to the illegalities last November, but misplaced it before opening it. An assistant superintendent who was told of the practice at the same time said he assumed someone else was taking care of it. The buck kept passing until rightfully outraged teachers learned that some marks they had given had been changed and they complained publicly.

Public schools have been a bulwark of our society, even if they come in for their share of criticism. Unfortunately, grade tampering also gives ammunition to foes of public education. It deserves condemnation.

Brea Olinda has won awards for student performance. It is unfair to pupils who received good grades through hard work to see other students get the same grades through favoritism. All but one of the district trustees have been largely silent so far, but students, teachers and parents deserve a full accounting from them and a pledge to prevent it from occurring again.

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