Inspector General Begins Audit After Allegations of Unearned Diplomas

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The office of the D.C. inspector general is conducting an audit into whether students at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Tenleytown received diplomas without having met all graduation requirements.

The inquiry, begun last week, is focusing on three issues: how students are certified for graduation; whether graduates at Wilson and possibly other high schools satisfied graduation requirements; and how well student records are kept and secured.

Austin A. Andersen, deputy inspector general, said Superintendent Clifford B. Janey requested the audit in July, a month after high school teacher Erich Martel alleged that more than 100 Wilson students did not meet graduation requirements but were still awarded diplomas that month. The inquiry is one of several concerning the school system that the inspector general's office will undertake this year. Among the areas of inquiry are whether nonresident tuition has been properly assessed and whether school buildings are being properly maintained and repaired. To better complete the work, the inspector general's office opened a five-person audit office, with a $300,000 budget, at school system headquarters.

The Wilson audit "is not an investigation, which implies some type of misconduct, either criminal or administrative," Andersen said. "With an audit, we can come in and take a broad look."

Andersen said that although the initial focus will be on Wilson, the audit could expand to other high schools based on the data auditors receive. As with any audit, Andersen said, if information points to wrongdoing, it will be turned over to its investigators, a separate unit. For now, Andersen said the audit could be completed by the end of October and the results would be made public. By contrast, the office does not publicly release details of its investigations.

Allegations that students at Wilson improperly received diplomas were previously raised in August 2002 by Martel. Then-Superintendent Paul Vance decided to send a team of investigators to Wilson, which included former and current school officials. That team looked into allegations that 29 grades were inflated.

A consultant hired by the school system confirmed that some Wilson seniors in the Class of 2002 did not meet the academic requirements to graduate. The consultant also found that several high schools did not have consistent policies to ensure that student records were complete and securely kept.

Martel recently accused Wilson's principal, Stephen Tarason, of retaliation by taking away Martel's Advanced Placement teaching assignments in July after he questioned whether all students had met graduation requirements. Martel and Tarason could not be reached yesterday to comment.

School board member Victor Reinoso (District 2) said: "It's unfortunate that the school system finds itself in a similar position four years later. I think it makes a lot of sense to have an independent investigation, because there have been doubts surrounding the integrity of this system for several years."

Victoria Lord of Capitol Hill is a new Wilson parent; her son Nicholas Eckenwiler, 13, started ninth grade two weeks ago. As an out-of-boundary parent, she chose Wilson over Eastern, her neighborhood high school, because she heard positive things about the Tenleytown school. She said yesterday that the allegations "gave her pause."

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