BUFFALO, N.Y. – The violent attack outside of McKinley High School that severely injured a student is shining a light on more problems at the school.
Teachers and the president of the teacher’s union are now pointing out examples of grade fraud.
“A teacher I spoke with said students who rarely came to class passed classes. Is that true?” Fox Buffalo’s Emily Girsch asked Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
“I was told that by a number of teachers at the school,” said Rumore.
“The allegations were that he was playing with the grades,” he said.
“Those are serious allegations,” said Girsch.
“Yes they are, yes they are,” said Rumore.
“It would be interesting to find out whether there ever was an investigation because I don’t remember ever getting anything in writing about an investigation, either by the state or by the district.”
In September 2020, Rumore sent a memo to Superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash, the Board of Education, and New York State Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty Rosa, requesting a full investigation into alleged grade fraud by then McKinley High School principal, Dr. Mark Abraham.
The letter reads “Knowing the damage that can result from what might, if the issue became public (since others at McKinley are aware of the issue) be considered a cover-up, the BTF requests that a full investigation of these very serious issues be completed.”
Included was a detailed letter by a physical education teacher who says a senior student in his class failed the first two marking periods of the 2019-2020 school year, so he was placed in a duplicate gym class. It goes on to allege Dr. Abraham was giving him two opportunities to pass the same class so he could graduate.
The teacher, who does not want to be identified, provided me with an email exchange in which he asked the student, “I noticed you also have Mr. X for P.E. when did that start? At the half year point? Why did you start having him and me at the same time for P.E. at the half year point?”
The student replied, “It’s cause I failed one time.”
He followed up with the student to see who placed him in the second class and did not get a response.
The teacher provided us with an audio exchange with then-vice principal Giovanna Claudio-Cotto on the condition that we change his voice to protect his identity.
“Did he end up passing?” asked the teacher.
“He did, yes,” said Claudio-Cotto.
“So did they use x’s class for that then?” said the teacher.
“I believe so,” said Claudio-Cotto.
A Spanish teacher at McKinley, who retired in 2020, has a similar story. In January 2019, Kathy Frank says she entered failing grades of 50% for several students for the second marking period. She noticed the grades had been changed to 65%s and spoke to the school’s guidance counselor.
“I did not give them a 65 and the guidance counselor said, ‘Well we were told to give them 65 so they would have a chance of passing,” said Frank.
Data from the state’s education website shows that the graduation rate in June 2016 at McKinley was 81% before Dr. Abraham became principal. It went up to 87% in June 2020, the year he resigned, although it appears to have dipped to 72% in 2019.
Abraham has since published a book called “What Success Looks Like: Increasing High School Graduation Rates Among Males of Color.”
“I was able to take the graduation rate from 60% to 93% for black males,” Dr. Abraham said to Fox Buffalo’s Emily Girsch.
Girsch said to him, “It’s been alleged that you’ve been inflating grades in order to achieve that graduation data.”
“That is completely false,” said Abraham.
Fox Buffalo’s Emily Girsch reached out to the superintendent’s office, all of the school board members, and New York State’s Department of Education to see if an investigation has been conducted.
She did not hear back from any of the parties.