State Board of Education recommends DA investigate Durham charter school diplomas
Posted December 12, 2016
Durham, N.C. — The State Board of Education recommended Monday that the Durham County District Attorney’s Office determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted against Kestrel Heights, a charter school in Durham.
The school reported that more than 50 students over the past three years received diplomas they didn't earn.
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 lays out the timeline of what happened and references 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 Monday and replaced with the name of the new counselor, who was hired in October. When reached by phone Monday evening, a woman who identified herself as Vines declined to comment to WRAL News.
"Oh, I'm not interested. Thank you for calling," she said.
It's unclear if Vines is the counselor mentioned in the report or if the school had more than one counselor for the high school. However, she was the only high school counselor listed on the school's website.
The State Charter Schools Advisory Board has asked the school to provide the names of the principal and counselor who were serving at the time. The board also recommended a number of steps to investigate and correct the diploma problem, including requesting that the Durham County DA get involved. That recommendation was then sent to the State Board of Education, which agreed with all the recommendations.
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," said Kestrel Heights attorney Stephon Bowens.
Members of the State Board of Education said the deeper investigation will include reviews of school records dating back to 2008.
Lee Teague, executive director of the North Carolina Association for Public Charter Schools, said Kestrel Heights' diploma issue should be taken "very seriously, because a high school diploma needs to mean that the student met all the requirements, and there should be no questions of that."
The board at Kestrel Heights is scheduled to hold a meeting at the middle school at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.