Fewer than half of Kennedy HS seniors who took summer courses now cleared to graduate, board president says

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Fewer than half of the 53 John F. Kennedy High Schools students who took summer classes in hopes of earning long-awaited diplomas have been cleared to earn them as of Friday, according to the board president of New Beginnings Schools foundation — the charter network that runs Kennedy.

“As of the close of business yesterday, 24 of the 53 students submitted to the Louisiana Department of Education on July 26th have been cleared for graduation and are able to retrieve their diplomas,” Raphael Gang wrote in an email sent Saturday morning. “We have reached out to our families who are cleared and continue to work closely with the [Louisiana Department of Education] for our students who have not yet been cleared.”

Those 53 students returned for classes this summer after myriad graduation problems surfaced amid a New Beginnings-commissioned investigation into alleged grade inflation at the Gentilly high school. The Orleans Parish school district and the Louisiana Department of Education also opened investigations into the school.

The students are part of a class of 177 seniors, about half of whom were found not to have met graduation criteria a month after their May graduation ceremony. Sixty-nine of the students who didn’t qualify had been allowed to walk at the ceremony, according to New Beginnings officials.

The charter network has not yet released the results of its own investigation. But the state found New Beginnings Schools Foundation, Kennedy’s charter operator, had misused credit recovery courses. Those courses are intended for students to retake a course they have failed, but Kennedy allowed students to use them for classes they had not previously taken. The school also allegedly failed to have teachers supervise students’ online work.

Since New Beginnings hired a law firm to investigate in April, the network’s CEO was suspended and later resigned. Five Kennedy administrators have left the school. And both NOLA Public Schools Superintendent and New Beginnings board members have apologized to families. NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis has requested a criminal investigation, which may be in the works, according to WWL-TV. And Lewis has called for a citywide audit of high school students’ school records.

One family has filed a lawsuit, seeking class-action status on behalf of all students found ineligible to graduate, that contains affidavits of several students who explain how the inability to obtain final transcripts has affected their ability to receive scholarships, apply for financial aid and enroll in colleges.

Earlier this month, New Beginnings CEO Kevin George said that the network believed that all 53 had met graduation requirements, but the network was waiting on the state to clear them. Last week, a court hearing in the lawsuit revealed the state was still seeking detailed information from New Beginnings before clearing students for diplomas. And a state Department of Education official testified that some students had taken “courses in the summer that weren’t what we recommended.”

New Beginnings has continually said the charter group is helping each student figure out what they need to qualify for graduation.

“Our highest priority is on this task and we will continue to work with everyone involved for a desired solution,” Gang wrote.

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