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Hamilton High principal suspended over grade-change ‘issue’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools officials say a principal has been disciplined after they found a grade-changing issue at another Memphis school.

Hamilton High Principal Monekea Smith has been suspended without pay after discovering an issue at that school over the weekend.

Monekea Smith (SCS)

The district issued an immediate moratorium on "grade floors" in response. Grade floors allow each school to determine what’s passing and what’s failing, meaning they can give students a higher grade than they’ve earned.

According to a statement released by SCS:

"Grade floors were meant to ensure failing grades did not go below a certain level, so our students would have a better chance to improve.  They were never intended to allow the changing of grades from failing to passing, and anyone found guilty of doing so will face immediate disciplinary action.

"Until we can get a handle on how grade floors are being utilized from school to school, it’s in the best interest of our students to discontinue the use of them.  All SCS educators have been encouraged to report issues of grade changing or grade floors at any of our schools."

Parent Kayland Henly said she was never a fan of grade floors.

“Me as a parent, if my student worked for an A, they deserve and A,” said Henly. “There`s no reason someone should change a grade, that’s not fair to the students actually working for a better grade.”

Keith Williams with the Memphis Shelby County Teachers Association says eliminating grade floors, takes pressure off teachers.

“We had a conversation today with a teacher from a middle school who shall remain nameless but a principal told her she must change these grades,” said Williams. “We asked her to get it in writing.” “It’s a double edge sword, if you don’t obey the principal you’re insubordinate but if you do it and get caught, you violated school policy.

The district began its investigation after allegations that students at Trezevant had been allowed to graduate because their grades had been changed by administrators. Those allegations turned out to be true and, after a report by an outside law firm, the district's investigation widened to other schools.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson addressed the district's ongoing investigation in a recent interview. There are cases in which school administrators are allowed to change a grade or schools can set minimum grade floors, but that the practice must be done according to rules.

"There are instances where if you change a grade for a legitimate reason, and people sign off on that, it's documented, there's nothing improper about that," he said. "When you just change grades just to be changing grades or for an improper purpose, then that's flatly prohibited."

He continued, "We are going to hold people accountable if we find people engaged in wrongdoing."