Radnor probe faults schools over scandal

Posted: July 03, 2007

An investigation into grade-changing and cheating during the 2006-07 school year at Radnor High School has found "systemic inadequacies" in the school district's procedures, as well as ignorance of educational law and a failure to respect professional lines of authority.

The finding was made public in a report, issued yesterday, that seeks to close a difficult period for the Radnor School District.

For the last several months, the administration and teachers - who discovered some of the grade changes by accident - were at odds, and there were fears that other changes had gone undiscovered. Superintendent Gary Cooper resigned in April, citing personal reasons, and acting principal Joseph Cannella returned to his assistant principal position.

The 17-page report details the handling of grade changes for two students, an apparent computer glitch that led to grades for a whole math class' being incorrectly recorded, and an Advanced Placement cheating incident in January that involved 28 students.

In dealing with the controversies, investigators concluded that administrators revealed "a lack of knowledge of, or appreciation of, educational law," and that policies, controls and procedures were inadequate or nonexistent.

The problems were compounded, the report says, by "an inexperienced principal." Also evident, investigators said, was a failure to respect "professional lines of authority and responsibility," and to recognize the necessity of adhering to procedures for grade changes and student discipline.

The report, written for the school board by the Levin Legal Group of Huntingdon Valley, which specializes in education law, recommends a host of changes to improve the district's response in the future.

The daughter of Radnor Township Commissioner Lisa Paolino was one of the students for whom a grade was changed. She also was a member of the math class that received incorrect marks, fueling speculation that influence had been used.

The report says that the girl's grade change was handled improperly by the district's administration initially, but that the alteration was nevertheless warranted. The erroneous math class grades were simply a computer system failure, it says.

Cooper, Board President Kathy Fisher and Paolino all said there had been no improper influence involved.

Paolino's daughter "has a medical problem which was disclosed, and the grade change was found to be appropriate. It is as simple as that," said Joe Fioravanti, Paolino's lawyer.

The grade change was from a D in physical-education wellness class to a "pass." The grade was "changed initially without foundation or rationale," the report concludes, but an investigation showed that "it was properly determined that the student was entitled to a P."

In an interview yesterday, Glenna Hazeltine, one of the lawyers who conducted the investigation, said the physical education teacher was not consulted when the D grade was changed last fall.

District records showed that the daughter had been excused from some classes in the spring for medical reasons, Hazeltine said, but at the time - and last fall, when the matter was first examined - "nobody processed the cumulative nature of those notes" and called a meeting to decide if the grade should have been changed. A review made after the grade change became part of the investigation did follow that procedure, district officials said.

The report does not identify Paolino's daughter or Paolino by name, though Paolino has acknowledged that the student is her daughter. (The girl has a different last name from her mother.) The Inquirer is withholding the names of both students for whom grades were changed for privacy reasons.

The report said that Cannella "cannot recall who made the decision" to change the grade. Four Radnor High teachers, who asked not to be identified, said Cannella told a faculty meeting in February that he had made the change.

Paolino said she talked to Cannella and Cooper last fall about the change. Cooper said he referred the matter to Cannella and was not involved in the final decision. Cannella could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The report said another grade change last fall, for a male high school senior, was made "for no legitimate reason" and was reversed after being reviewed.

Cannella told investigators that Cooper ordered the change, the report said. The superintendent, however, told them the change was made with his concurrence but that the decision was Cannella's.

The report drew praise yesterday from Betsy McIlwain, president of the union that represents Radnor teachers. "What's done is done," McIlwain said. "This is an opportunity to make the changes we need."

But Judy Sherry, a former school board member and a persistent board critic, said that she remained skeptical about whether Paolino's being a commissioner figured in how her daughter's grade change was handled.

The report does not have enough "who, when, what, where and why" to satisfy her, she said. It "is supposed to clear the air so that 'healing can begin.' But it doesn't do that. It doesn't shed much light."

Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 610-701-7638 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

Read excerpts from the Radnor High report via http://go.philly.com/radnorreport

comments powered by Disqus