Durham charter school: 160 of 399 graduates received unearned diplomas
Posted January 9
Updated January 11
Durham, N.C. — Kestrel Heights charter school in Durham reported Monday that, between 2008 and 2016, 160 of its 399 graduates received diplomas "without tangible evidences of meeting all requirements."
Two principals and a high school counselor who were working at the time "are no longer employed," the school said.
"The actions of the high school principals and counselor lacked the requisite diligence and thoroughness expected of educated, trained, and experienced professionals," Kestrel Heights Executive Director Mark Tracy told WRAL News by email.
He said the problem stemmed from "systematic errors" by the former employees and that he does not believe their actions were "willful, intentional or done with malice."
The affected students missed one or more mandated courses, including American History II, English 3 and 4, Math 4, World History, Physical Education, Earth Science, Physical Science, Algebra 2, Geometry, Biology, and Civics, according to the school.
The executive director released redacted copies of the school's internal report Monday:
- Kestrel Heights press release about diplomas
- Kestrel Heights investigatory report
- Appendix: Kestrel Heights investigatory report
The school initially reported last month that more than 50 students received diplomas they didn't earn over the past three years. They did a more thorough internal investigation, at the urging of the state, and found that 40 percent of students in the past eight years received diplomas they did not earn.
The State Board of Education recommended last month that the Durham County District Attorney’s Office determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.
Kestrel Heights' new principal discovered the problem in July, shortly after she took the job. The school began investigating and reported the issue to the state's Office of Charter Schools on Oct. 5.
A letter from the school on Dec. 8 laid out the timeline of what happened and referenced a school counselor who "was unable to provide the necessary information to resolve the (students') missing credits." The counselor, who is not named, took a leave for medical reasons in mid-August and resigned in September.
LaSaundra Vines was listed on the school's website as its high school counselor. Her picture and biography were taken down last month and replaced with the name of the new counselor, who was hired in October. When reached by phone last month, a woman who identified herself as Vines declined to comment to WRAL News.
"Oh, I'm not interested. Thank you for calling," she said.
Since the discovery came to light, officials at Kestrel Heights have worked to contact affected students and work through ways to resolve problems with their diplomas.
"The information that's been provided to the state board gives a very clear picture of what the school has been doing and the efforts that it's made to make sure that its primary concern has been the students," Kestrel Heights attorney Stephon Bowens told WRAL News last month.