Unauthorized Grade Changes at Grace Brethren High School

The following article was published by the Ventura County Star on September 11, 2013:

Sept. 11–A private Christian school in Simi Valley is standing by its principal after admitting he wrongfully changed a student’s grade in a class.

Leaders of Grace Brethren High School and its affiliated church say John Hynes will remain as principal despite the grade change because he admitted it and asked for forgiveness.

“It was a one-time event. It’ll never happen again,” Hynes said Wednesday. “I made a human mistake. Thank God the school didn’t fire me like another organization would have.” Hynes said the grade change was not intentional. A former Spanish teacher at the school, however, claims Hynes also changed test grades of four students in her class, including his own daughter. All four were members of the swim team.

Pastor Jordan Bakker of Grace Brethren Church said leaders investigated the Spanish teacher’s allegations and found a problem only with the grade of an unidentified student in a different class. That grade has been changed back, and the school has taken measures to make sure something like this does not happen again, Bakker said.

“There was an academic breach of integrity with our principal. There was a changing of a grade for one student in one class,” Bakker said. “He admitted it and owned up to that, which brought about swift and substantial disciplinary action.” Bakker would not disclose how Hynes was disciplined but said the action is “still ongoing.” The misconduct took place before summer break, in the last academic year. Hynes has worked since 2005 at Grace Brethren, where annual high school tuition for one student is $9,300, according to its website.

Ray Blackwell, executive director of the school, sent emails to parents Tuesday night informing them about the incident. Hynes sent a similar email to parents Wednesday.

Honesty and integrity?

Anke Saldarriaga, a Spanish teacher at Grace Brethren last year, said Hynes deleted and altered test scores in her class without informing her. The changes led to Hynes’s daughter receiving a B instead of a C in the class and another student receiving a C instead of a D, said Saldarriaga.

“Schools stand for honesty and integrity, and this is not it,” said Saldarriaga, who has since resigned from the school. The resignation was unrelated to the grade change incident, she said.

Saldarriaga said that earlier in the school year, Hynes expressed concerns to her about his daughter being on track to get only a C in Spanish.

Hynes, however, gave a different version of what happened. The principal said he deleted the test scores of his daughter and three other students because they were not in class when the date of the test was announced.

Bakker and Saldarriaga said the four were at an athletic event the day the test date was announced.

Hynes also said the test violated school policy because Saldarriaga assigned too much weight to it.

Saldarriaga said that when she found out, she confronted Hynes to argue it was unfair to delete the test grades of only four students.

Hynes said he agreed and deleted the test scores of the entire class.

School leaders said they investigated Saldarriaga’s accusations and concluded Hynes did not do anything wrong in her class.

Bakker said principals almost always support teachers, but on rare occasions, such as this one, they disagree.

“Administrators and teachers are free to discuss policies and grades and they’re not always going to see eye to eye,” Bakker said.

Other teachers contacted by The Star failed to return calls or declined to comment, referring all questions to administrators.

Different in public schools

According to school records, Hynes deleted test grades of four students, including his own daughter, on June 9-10 in Saldarriaga’s class. The records also show he made modifications June 9-10 to his daughter’s history grades.

Hynes said the school records do not show anything unusual. He said teachers and administrators routinely make modifications to the grade book to see how a final grade would be affected if a student received a different grade on a particular test.

Asked if he had altered his daughter’s grades, Hynes said he could not comment because she is a minor.

Saldarriaga said the school’s explanation of what happened is a “half-truth.” “That would mean there’s a half-lie. Where is the honesty? If you want to be honest, be completely honest,” she said. “They’re teaching something that’s contrary to the Bible and it’s a shame.” Private schools like Grace Brethren have their own regulations when it comes to the authority of administrators. Public schools must abide by the state education code, which prohibits administrators from changing a grade given by a teacher.

Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth said that in public schools, there are exceptions in the event of a clerical mistake, fraud or incompetency.

“Other than that, the governing board, superintendent, principals do not change grades,” Mantooth said.

If a principal at a public school insists on changing a grade, the matter must be reviewed by the school district and the teacher must have an opportunity to defend the grade.

“It’s part of checks and balances,” Mantooth said. “You don’t want things changed at the higher level because of political pressure.” sin and redemption As a Christian organization, Grace Brethren believes in redemption and feels Hynes truly repented for changing the grade of one student, said Pastor Bakker.

“We hold integrity in a very high regard. Every leader needs to maintain their integrity, and yet we are all fallible people. We’re all sinful people,” Bakker said. “We also believe there’s a process of redemption. We try to be consistent that way with students. If they mess up one time, it’s not, ‘You’re outta here.’ ” Bakker said the school’s information technology department has taken steps since the incident to ensure that grades given by a teacher cannot be altered by one person.

“We believe he can continue to lead the campus academically and spiritually,” Bakker said of Hynes. “We will stand with him 100 percent.” Hynes said he is more proud of Grace Brethren after seeing the school’s ability to forgive.

“We’re better now than we were before,” Hynes said. “We’ve grown and learned from this.” ___ (c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) Visit Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) at http://www.vcstar.com

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