A third-party investigation into improper grade changing at Krum High School essentially absolved school officials of any wrongdoing, but some community members remain unconvinced.
Aric Stock, an attorney with the Dallas-based Stromberg Stock law firm, said he found no evidence to substantiate claims that high school administrators had improperly changed grades to benefit students who were related to them. He also said he found nothing to support rumors that administrators forced teachers to change grades or that students were asked to sign nondisclosure forms.
“Social media played a problematic role in this situation,” Stock said. “Facts were not always accurately represented. Treatment of others was not always well role-modeled and did not lead to respectful exchange.”
Stock worked on the investigation for a little more than a month, analyzing school-provided documents and interviewing 16 people, none of whom were students.
“I decided that though the students were probably important, they didn’t need to be meeting with a lawyer and grilled about allegations and rumors that I was trying to substantiate,” he said.
High School Principal Michelle Pieniazek faced intense scrutiny during the scandal because her daughter had previously graduated as the class salutatorian and her husband works as the school agriculture teacher. Stock said he didn’t find evidence of nepotism from Pieniazek and said any statements otherwise verge on defamation.
Stock also backed up the district’s choice to stay mum on the ouster of Bernard Lightfoot, a beloved high school assistant principal who signed a voluntary separation agreement around the time grade-changing allegations bubbled to the surface. Stock said confidentiality laws prohibit the district from addressing such matters.
“I caution everyone in this room not to assume you can come up with your own set of facts that meets your outcome,” he said. “Often, that’s not the case.”
Prior to Stock’s public report Wednesday, the school board discussed the issue in closed session for about an hour but took no action. After Stock addressed the board room of about 20 people, board President Eric Borchardt issued a statement.
“Unfortunately, we now live in a world where if the report doesn’t fit our preconceived notions of what we believe, we discount the report as fake or find fault in its process,” he said. “Our board accepts the report and will now leave this matter behind us. We will not let KISD become a war zone of rumors and suspicion.”
The report comes after two months of uncertainty as parents and students continued to question school officials about the issue and push for more transparency. The scandal first came to public light in mid-October when Krum Mayor Ron Harris implored the board to launch an external investigation.
The board called for that investigation three weeks later following Lighfoot’s departure and a grading software audit from an educational services center.
Some at the Wednesday meeting seemed pleased with the results, shouting, “good job.” Others were skeptical, muttering, “What a ripoff.”
Harris said he wasn’t convinced Stock, who typically handles personal-injury disputes and commercial litigation, was the right person to investigate a school district.
“This is about an administration and a school board that’s incompetent,” Harris said. “For that guy to say he found no evidence of nepotism is ludicrous.”
He added that two school board seats are up for re-election in the spring and will likely be competitive races.
“We need to make sure people stay well informed, make sure they understand what their elected officials are doing and not doing for them and hope that changes in May,” Harris said.