8 Schools Used Ineligible Athletes, Officials Say

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006

The grades of five Albert Einstein High School football players were changed to allow them to play, and problems involving athletes were found at seven other Montgomery County high schools, school officials said yesterday.

In all, 46 athletes at Einstein, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Winston Churchill, Quince Orchard, Walter Johnson, Watkins Mill, Wheaton and Walt Whitman were playing on sports teams while not having the minimum 2.0 grade-point average or possibly having more than one failing grade in the previous quarter.

The school system began an investigation late last month after allegations of grade-fixing surfaced at Einstein. After officials discovered evidence that in addition to the football players, 19 other students at Einstein were playing sports despite being ineligible, officials decided to review records at the 25 other high schools.

The other Einstein students played on 12 teams. But officials said there is no evidence that their grades were altered. School officials said changes in their grades appear to be the result of "inadvertent human error and/or lack of diligence."

James Fernandez, principal at Einstein, declined to comment, referring calls to the school system's central office. In a letter to parents sent Oct. 6, Fernandez wrote: "Our goal at Ei nstein is to ensure that every student receives a top quality education that prepares them well for life beyond high school. I will not allow anything to deter us from that mission."

School spokesman Brian Edwards said an Einstein administrator was placed on administrative leave. Edwards declined to say whether other Einstein staff members would face disciplinary action.

Einstein has never been known as a football powerhouse. Since 2000, the team has posted only two victories in its most successful 10-game season. This year the team is 2-4.

In the other cases, academically ineligible students played on a variety of varsity and junior varsity teams, including football, field hockey and golf. The eight schools will forfeit the games in which ineligible players participated, and all students involved will be removed from the teams.

Einstein will forfeit one varsity football game played against Northwood High School, three varsity field hockey games against Seneca Valley, Wheaton and Sherwood and four varsity boys soccer games against Northwood, Wheaton, Clarksburg and Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

Academic ineligibility, which affects everything from the drama club to the football team, has been an issue in Montgomery for several years. At some campuses, close to one-third of students don't have 2.0 grade-point averages.

A group of parents urged board members last year to consider changing the standards for sports participation so more students could take part. The board decided to keep the current policy.

"Sports is great, and it can be a motivator to try and get kids to do better," said board member Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase). "But we want kids to be able to graduate with diplomas.''

In a pair of memos sent to the school board Wednesday, Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said, "The review makes it clear that we must look at our processes and work to improve them so that we can avoid a repeat of this situation." Weast also urged school board members to refrain from expressing opinions on the grade changes, "given the personnel implications."

But some board members said there are serious problems to be addressed.

"Clearly there must be something wrong here," said school board President Charles Haughey. "We all need to know a whole lot more about the problem and how we got into this predicament. It's clear this is more than just a local occurrence.''

Board member Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring), who had supported a plan to rethink standards for academic eligibility, said the school system needs to find a way to provide means for struggling students to participate in all activities.

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