NC charter schools chief: Durham school's unearned diplomas are 'unacceptable'
Posted January 11
Raleigh, N.C. — The chief of the state Office of Charter Schools said Wednesday it is "unacceptable" that a Durham school gave unearned diplomas to 40 percent of its students in the past eight years.
Director Dave Machado said the state continues to monitor Kestrel Heights charter school but noted that his office found other problems with the school during a site visit in 2014. The school failed to list all of its students in the state's student database and was warned about the importance of testing accountability, he said.
Kestrel Heights reported Monday that, between 2008 and 2016, 160 of its 399 graduates received diplomas "without tangible evidences of meeting all requirements." The school said a counselor and two principals who were working at the time "are no longer employed."
"This situation is unacceptable," Machado told the state Charter Schools Advisory Board on Wednesday. "(But) I do appreciate that they did self-report this."
The Charter Schools Advisory Board is expected to recommend whether Kestrel Heights' charter should be renewed. The school is up for a possible 10-year renewal. The State Board of Education will review the recommendation and make the final determination about the school's future.
After Machado's report, the advisory board went into closed session. They emerged and said they plan to discuss the issue further this afternoon around 1:30 p.m.
Kestrel Heights Executive Director Mark Tracy told WRAL News by email Monday that the diplomas problem stemmed from "systematic errors" by the former employees and that he does not believe their actions were "willful, intentional or done with malice."
Tracy 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 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.
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.
Since the discovery came to light, officials at Kestrel Heights have reached out to affected students by certified mail. They sent an initial letter to inform students that there is a potential issue with their transcript. They followed up with two more letters if the students didn't respond.
The State Board of Education recommended last month that the Durham County District Attorney’s Office determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.