State Investigators Remove Records From Columbus Schools

Investigators today removed records from two Columbus High Schools in a criminal investigation.(Photo: Columbus City Schools)
Investigators today removed records from two Columbus High Schools in a criminal investigation.(Photo: Columbus City Schools)

Authorities looking into alleged fraud by the Columbus City Schools as part of a state auditor’s investigation swept across the district Thursday seizing records from several high schools.

State and federal authorities are investigating the school district, Ohio’s largest, over allegations employees improperly altered the grades or attendance records of struggling students to improve performance ratings in a process called “scrubbing.”

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s office issued the warrants and the district confirmed the searches were under way. At midday, investigators had executed search warrants at Marion-Franklin, Whetstone, Mifflin, Independence, Linden-McKinley and Northland high schools.

“The district and our schools are fully cooperating with authorities seeking these records,” district spokesman Jeff Warner said.

The probe was prompted by a 2011 request by Superintendent Gene Harris, which Yost initially declined to pursue, and eventually has grown to involve several top district employees.

In June, Yost launched the investigation after a renewed request from Harris. In the ensuing 10 months, Warner said the district has provided “hundreds, if not thousands” of student records of the same type sought by the search warrants.

Based on early findings in Columbus and districts in Toledo and suburban Cincinnati, Yost launched a separate statewide review of school district attendance and enrollment tracking changes.

Yost’s auditors spread out across the state to investigate a sampling of districts identified through a statistical analysis, not direct indications of wrongdoing.

That separate probe found nine Ohio districts that intentionally removed poor performing students from their rolls and discovered that more than 70 schools or districts had attendance reporting errors that didn’t appear to be purposeful.

Federal authorities joined the Columbus investigation in November and Yost separated the district from the rest of the state probe due to the likelihood of criminal referrals.

The temptations of scrubbing can include rosier district report cards, added state or federal funding and employee bonuses.

The practice has drawn attention across the country amid greater scrutiny of the increasingly data-driven world of public education. A former superintendent went to prison in Texas for conspiring to remove low-performing students from classrooms to boost average test scores. Principals in Oklahoma and Missouri also are out of their jobs after attendance-related scandals.