As an investigation into a series of complaints from teachers at Loudoun Valley High School continues, Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has sought to calm students’ and parents’ concerns, saying it is too soon to draw conclusions.
The investigation was initially reported last month by Leesburg Today, after numerous teachers at Loudoun Valley made allegations of “bullying and verbal harassment” and said they have been pressured by Principal Sue Ross and other top administrators to manipulate students’ grades, according to the newspaper’s report.
Several formal complaints were filed with county school personnel and, separately, with the Loudoun Education Association, an advocacy group that represents thousands of public school employees, officials confirmed.
Hatrick addressed the investigation and the concerns it has raised in a Nov. 1 letter to parents of Loudoun Valley students. He said that most of the sources who commented in the Leesburg Today article were anonymous, and he assured families that the integrity of their students’ academic records would not be compromised as a result of the allegations.
After reading the article, many Loudoun Valley seniors “were concerned that their college applications might be negatively affected by anonymous statements made in the paper about grade inflation or pressure to change grades,” Hatrick said in the letter. “I can assure you that our local debate will not affect college applications.”
He indicated that some of the allegations included in the newspaper article had not been reported to personnel officials during the school system’s review.
“As some of the allegations leveled anonymously in the newspaper article have not been expressed in the more than 60 interviews conducted thus far, we now will proceed with a further inquiry to see if there is credence to those allegations,” he said in the letter.
Hatrick also used the letter to question the rising emphasis on test scores as a measure of student, teacher and school success.
“It is my hope that a growing consensus will be reached that the ‘testing movement’ has gone too far,” he said “That said, it is still the responsibility of all the adults in a school to make sure that students are protected from unnecessary pressure while being challenged to achieve their best. I can tell you from the perspective of 47 years as an educator that the balance between appropriately challenging and protecting is difficult to measure and is often seen quite differently by different stakeholders.”
In the aftermath of the newspaper report, some residents voiced frustration that parents had not been informed of the investigation sooner. School officials said it is standard practice not to inform parents and students about a personnel investigation unless there is a danger to students or staff members.
“Parents or guardians of children directly involved in a personnel investigation would be notified,” Hatrick said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “The School Board is not notified about routine personnel investigations involving staff, although it has been briefed about this situation and past situations where there have been concerns about administrative employees.”
Despite undergoing significant changes in recent years, the school is continuing to function smoothly, Hatrick said.
“Loudoun Valley has been a school in transition for the past several years in regard to splitting its student body, the changing makeup of its population and the change in its longtime school leadership,” he said. “That said, it has been, and remains, a very high-performing school.”
None of the parties involved in the investigation has been placed on administrative leave, because there is no evidence to suggest that they are “impeding [the school’s] daily mission or that they need to be removed,” he said.
Other complaints have been filed against Loudoun County public school administrators in the past, Hatrick said, adding that the situation at Loudoun Valley is unique only because of “the degree of media attention and speculation.”
School officials said the investigation will continue until all concerns expressed privately and publicly have been thoroughly addressed. But the outcome might never be known to the larger community.
“The standard practice concerning the results of personnel investigations is that they remain confidential per the statutes governing personnel information,” Hatrick said.