Report on Baltimore high school reveals ghost students were attending ghost classes

After two years, Baltimore City Schools has finally released a summary of its investigation into Augusta Fells Savage high school. What they found confirmed much of what local news channel Fox45 has been reporting all year:

The report confirms administrators at Augusta Fells improperly changed grades and pressured teachers to give students grades they did not earn. The internal investigation also found students were scheduled in classes that did not exist and/or that they did not attend, when they should have been withdrawn due to lack of attendance…

Fox45 News also obtained a list of 21 seniors enrolled at Augusta Fells in 2019. These students were enrolled, even though it appears they were not attending the school. Ghost students, as they’re known by educators, can be used to inflate enrollment numbers and increase the tax dollars a school receives. We spoke to a man who was enrolled at the school, even though he was in jail.

North Avenue’s internal investigation confirms these findings, saying approximately 100 students had questionable status, and may not have been actively attending school while still remaining on the rolls.

Here’s what the summary report itself says about the classes that did not exist:

AFS students were scheduled into classes that did not exist (known at the school as “filler classes”), when they should have been withdrawn due to lack of attendance. For example, the investigation identified students who were enrolled in a yearbook class with a school administrator as the teacher of record, during the 2017-2018 school year through the 2019-2020 school year. While enrolled students were recorded as attending this class, there were no records of any class meeting, and no witnesses could verify the existence of the class. For approximately 10 students, this yearbook course was the only class in which they were enrolled at AFS in a particular year; others were enrolled in several other elective classes, such as journalism and creative writing, under similarly questionable circumstances.

The report also found that, in an effort to help students recover credits they needed, students were being allowed to complete “work packets” which are not supposed to count for credit recovery classes. Also, the classes themselves were listed as being taught by authorized teachers but were in fact being “taught” by people without credentials.

This investigation took Baltimore City Schools two years to complete. Frankly, I don’t see why it would take this long. I wonder if the city would have done anything if Fox45 hadn’t discovered that a student who had a 0.13 GPA in his senior year was near the top half of his class at Augusta Fells. That story broke in March of this year, 18 months after the investigation began. Suddenly there was a bit more local attention on the story.

Fox45 has been updating this story for months and has several interviews and reports about the results of the city investigation. Unfortunately, none of the video is available on YouTube so you’ll have to click over to view those. One report from yesterday suggests that criminal charges could be possible for some of what the report uncovered:

“I would say it is entirely possible that City Schools officials could face criminal charges,” said Kurt Nachtman, a Baltimore-based attorney with ENLawyers, who has watched Project Baltimore’s reporting on Augusta Fells.

Nachtman tells FOX45 News, if charges are filed, they are most likely to come from the Attorney General’s Office. Though, federal charges are possible, and likely to include falsifying financial records, or perjury, if school administrators signed fraudulent enrollment paperwork, for example, under penalty of perjury.

I’m not going to hold my breath on that. Government workers at any level are rarely held accountable for their actions, though I agree it might help the city shape up if they were in this case. What has been happening here is clearly a kind of financial fraud, one which harmed children. There’s no excuse for giving it a pass.

Finally, the idea that this is only happening at one school in Baltimore seems pretty unlikely to me. In July, Fox45 reported that 41% of all Baltimore high school students have a 1.0 GPA or lower. Among freshmen it was 51 percent who had a D average or lower. I suspect if the city looks it will discover that similar fraud is taking place at other schools, i.e. students who never show up for classes that don’t exist. Augusta Fells may have been the worst school in Baltimore but it’s far from being the only one that is failing the students and parents who live there.