The Pleasanton Unified School District had two incidents of administrators improperly removing a course from a high school student transcript -- one inadvertent, one intentional, but both impermissible, according to the findings from the law firm investigating the integrity of district transcripts.
The memorandum, released to the Weekly on Friday, stated the two situations were isolated and did not indicate systemic problems with the district's management of student transcripts.
"After interviewing the aforementioned individuals and reviewing the written documents, I have concluded that the alleged improper removal of/changes to information from transcripts and records is not a systemic practice in the district," Melissa Phung, from the firm Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, wrote in her summary of findings.
"In the course of the investigation, I could only validate two incidents of improper removals of courses from a high school transcript. In these isolated cases, the administrators involved had authorized the changes to the student transcripts and directed subordinates to remove the information from (PUSD's student information management system)," Phung said.
In each situation, the district restored the course back to the student's transcript immediately upon learning of the improper removal, according to Phung, whose three-page memorandum also urged the district to review its policies and procedures regarding transcripts as well as counsel the involved administrators on the correct protocol.
Employees involved were not identified in the memo, and it is unclear whether any administrators were disciplined in the case.
Superintendent David Haglund said he is confident that the investigator's report confirms no systemic problems with the integrity of PUSD transcripts.
"Absolutely," Haglund told the Weekly during an interview Friday afternoon.
"They did identify two instances of where student records had been altered, so that's the first big issue," Haglund said. "Both of those incidences have been corrected, so that's not an ongoing issue. They were corrected some time ago when we found out about them."
"The second thing is that she indicated through her 30 interviews of people across the district that it wasn't a systemic problem. And that's what was important to me when the first question was raised," the superintendent added.
The investigation, for which the district enlisted one of the four law firms it has under retainer this year, was launched after Haglund received an email from an employee in October raising concerns about high school transcript inconsistencies.
Phung's memorandum, issued to the district Jan. 31 to mark the conclusion of her investigation, described two confirmed improper transcript alterations in seemingly separate categories -- intentional and accidental.
One incident involved administrators removing a completed high school course, for which the student received a final grade, entirely from the student's high school transcript and record, according to Phung.
"Though the administrators who directed the removal did so out of a compassionate reason due to the life circumstances of the student, California law strictly limits when and how a grade can be changed or removed from a student's transcript," Phung stated.
Because none of the limited exceptions under state law were applicable, the administrators' decision was impermissible, according to the investigator.
The other situation surrounded a middle school course being "mistakenly removed from the student's record entirely instead of being suppressed from the high school transcript," Phung said.
"Though middle school courses are not required to be on high school transcripts, the complete removal of a grade from a student's record, including grades given in middle school, is impermissible," she said.
Both incidents involved administrators improperly altering student records. Phung did not cite any cases of teachers changing grades.
Haglund declined to identify which schools were involved in the course-removal incidents, but Association of Pleasanton Teachers president Janice Clark, when asked about the investigator's report Friday, offered a strong defense of Amador Valley High School teachers amid the transcript probe.
"Teachers at Amador Valley High School uphold integrity as an essential character trait. Amador's teachers, both academically and professionally, work tirelessly to support and enrich the experience of all students," Clark wrote in an email to the Weekly.
Haglund also defended teacher integrity and said he regretted "an unfortunate choice of words" used in the district's statement to the Weekly two weeks ago confirming the ongoing transcript investigation -- which described the probe as "around potentially inconsistent high school grading and/or transcript practices."
"It's important to me that we clarify that statement and ensure that everybody understands that at no point in time was the grading practices of teachers at issue in this investigation. It's never been questioned," Haglund said. "We have fantastic teachers in this district who work incredibly hard with the kids, and they are professionals and their integrity is intact."
The superintendent declined to identify the administrators deemed to have improperly changed student records, citing personnel confidentiality. Grading and transcript oversight falls under multiple departments at the district level, as well as at individual school sites, according to the district.
Phung's memorandum stated that while all school administrators technically have access to change grades and remove courses, "only a select few staff members have the actual knowledge and ability to do so."
Haglund said he could not comment on whether any disciplinary action had been or would be taken against administrators involved.
"I'm not at liberty to talk about processes involved in the human resources, what we call, progressive disciplinary practice," he said.
It is unclear what other reports and documents, beyond the summary of findings, district officials have received or reviewed from its legal consultant related to the investigation.
Phung's memorandum confirmed that the complaint was first raised to district leaders from an employee allegedly made aware of "requests to remove middle school courses from high school transcripts and possible grade modification of a high school course by someone other than the course's assigned teacher."
District officials said they enlisted the law firm to investigate the complaint because the concerns involved student records and potential Education Code violations.
Phung said she conducted interviews with more than 30 witnesses, including administrators, counselors and registrars from Amador Valley, Foothill and Village high schools as well as district office personnel. She said all participants were advised about the district's anti-retaliation policy and privacy rights.
She said she also reviewed a wide variety of documents, including emails, letters and student transcripts.
"Aside from a few isolated concerns, none of the witnesses interviewed reported any systemic or routine issues with improper grade or course changes to transcripts," Phung wrote.
In the memo, she tried to quell concerns about rampant transcript alterations in the future, saying the possibility is minimal since only a select few administrators have the access and the necessary knowledge of the operating system.
Phung's report also recommends three corrective actions:
"1. Immediately restore the grades/courses that were improperly removed from the students' records, and inform the students and their families of such actions and the basis for the corrective measures." (Haglund said this has already been accomplished.)
"2. Clarify, and if necessary revise, board policies, administrative regulations, and procedures with regard to requests for changes to grades and general transcript maintenance. Relevant staff should also be trained on such policies and procedures in order to ameliorate any confusion in the future as to the appropriate and legal framework of when grades or courses may be removed from a student's transcript."
"3. The administrators directly involved in the decision-making process of the identified incidents should be counseled regarding these errors and be given direction on how to proceed in the future should any similar request be made. Progressive discipline is warranted when a district employee engages in conduct inconsistent with federal and state law, or board policy."
All school board members have received the investigator's memorandum, but they will not be discussing the two cases in open session, according to Haglund. PUSD's Board Policy Subcommittee is reviewing district-wide transcript and grading policies, and any proposed revisions would return to the full board for consideration and adoption -- though no timeline is set.
Some changes to transcript practices at the school site level have been implemented or are in the process of being updated, according to Haglund.
The superintendent pointed out that reviewing the transcript and grading policies is part of a district overarching objective to respond to feedback from stakeholders in the community. The district has reportedly received a lot of public input the implementation of district policies and procedures and how some might be being applied differently at different school sites.