The Howard County school board announced yesterday that it found no basis for accusations that two high-ranking administrators used their positions to alter a student's academic records.
In a statement, board members said they voted unanimously Friday to reverse former superintendent John O'Rourke's decision to reassign former deputy superintendent Kimberly Statham and former assistant superintendent Roger L. Plunkett. Statham was made a teacher by O'Rourke, and Plunkett was asked to oversee the district's low-performing schools.
Board Chairman Courtney Watson said the vote was taken in closed session because it involved personnel matters. For the same reason, she said, the board would not discuss details of an internal investigation.
Interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who took over from O'Rourke in March, said yesterday that he has not decided whether to return Statham and Plunkett to their old jobs or assign them new positions as part of a staff reorganization. Statham has been on administrative leave with pay during her appeal of O'Rourke's decision, while Plunkett took some time off but has returned to work while the board considered his appeal.
"I certainly knew that if I had a fair, objective review of the facts that I would be vindicated," Statham said. "I just want to get back to work very quickly." Plunkett, too, said he felt vindicated by the board.
The accusations surfaced in December when an anonymous e-mail, sent to school officials and the media, accused Statham of using her position to alter a failing grade for her daughter, who attended Centennial High School in Ellicott City at the time. The e-mail also alleged that Statham had asked Plunkett to help change her daughter's transcript to show that the teenager had dropped a course rather than withdrawn from it. Withdrawals are generally frowned upon by college admissions officers.
O'Rourke paid Chesapeake Investigative Associates, a private firm, $45,000 to look into the matter. About a month into that investigation, O'Rourke's own position came under fire when the school board opted not to renew his four-year contract.
In late February, three days before he resigned as superintendent, O'Rourke announced the demotions of Statham and Plunkett.
O'Rourke could not be reached for comment yesterday. The school system's attorney, Leslie Stellman, said O'Rourke thinks he acted in the best interests of Howard schools.
In its statement yesterday, the school board, however, strongly disagreed with the former superintendent's action. Board members reviewed more than 2,000 pages of testimony that Statham, Plunkett, O'Rourke and others gave to a school system hearing officer, according to the board's statement.
After six hours of deliberation, the board dismissed four of the accusations against Statham, whom O'Rourke hired from the Montgomery County school system in August 2001. In the fifth, a teacher reported that Statham made a threatening statement about his or her personnel file. The board voted that the remark was not an intentional abuse of power.
In the case of Plunkett, a Howard school employee for 27 years, the board reviewed three instances in which he was accused of using his influence to help Statham's children.
In each case, the board found that the allegations had "no factual basis" and fell within Plunkett's normal duties as a liaison between parents and administrators.
"The school system now needs to move on," Watson said. "We hope that this decision will allow us to do that."