SC education agency investigates claim of grade tampering in Chester County

South Carolina’s public education oversight agency is investigating an allegation of “grade adjustments” or tampering within the Chester County School District, The (Rock Hill) Herald learned Tuesday.

Spokesman Dino Teppara confirmed the state Department of Education is “looking into” the claim. He said his office could not comment on details of the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Denise Lawson, chairwoman of the Chester County school board, said she could not speak to the state’s investigation. Shedid say the district took action during the past school year, in response to allegations against an employee.

“That employee is no longer working in the district,” Lawson said, without identifying the employee or the substance of the allegations. “It was handled in an appropriate action.”

At least one state legislator was contacted within the past year in reference to a concern about the Chester County school district, but he said he does not know any details about the investigation. Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro, whose district includes Chester County, said he advised that constituent to contact the school district and, if necessary, the Department of Education.

It was unclear Tuesday what led to the state investigation and whether any school district employees face further discipline in connection with the alleged grade tampering. It’s also unclear when the investigation began and how long it could last.

The Department of Education has the authority to investigate claims regarding a range of school or district issues, including teacher conduct, accountability and standards, and administrative issues. In some cases, school districts are required by law to report instances of educator misconduct to the state.

Additionally, school districts have their own policies and procedures for investigations. Lawson said Chester County officials look into all claims and allegations.

“We take that serious; we don’t brush that aside,” she said, adding that the district appropriately investigated the allegations and took the correct responsive actions.

This month in Chester, other questions have loomed about Superintendent Agnes Slayman’s unexplained, indefinite leave of absence from work. There has been no indication from state or district officials that Slayman’s leave is connected to the current grade-tampering investigation.

Lawson and others have said they cannot offer details about Slayman’s leave of absence or talk about recent private board discussions surrounding the superintendent’s employment. District officials also have discussed this month behind closed doors at least one employee “grievance,” but have not tied that matter to Slayman’s absence.

Those discussions have taken place in executive session during two September board meetings. This week, two attorneys met with school board members in private to discuss Slayman’s employment and the employee complaint.

Officials have repeatedly declined to say publicly why Slayman has been on leave, whether she’s being paid, or when she may return.

At a board meeting Monday – apparently unrelated to the state investigation – school board members voted 6-1 to hear at least one employee grievance at a later date. Trustee Patricia Hensley voted against hearing the complaint but did not specify why she was opposed.

Lawson stressed Tuesday that Slayman’s absence has not affected the quality of education in Chester schools. Administrators and teachers, she said, are committed to the education, well-being and safety of Chester students.

“These kids deserve the best we can give them,” she said.

School board members are limited in what information can be made public related to recent meetings, Lawson said, and she understands parent questions and concerns and wants them to continue to be involved in their children’s education.

“We want them to care,” she said.