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Uberti: Possible firing of Hempstead whistle-blower looks suspect

The Hempstead school district has been systematically changing

The Hempstead school district has been systematically changing some students' failing final course grades into passing grades. (Jun. 22, 2013) Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

School districts rife with controversy need the sort of honesty displayed by Carlos Ramirez, who exposed Hempstead school district’s grade-inflation policy last month.

But that honesty isn’t sitting well with district administrators. They’ve since gone on the defensive for Hempstead’s decades-old policy of automatically rounding up failing final grades of 63 and 64 to passing marks of 65 for middle and high school students.

The Hempstead school board will consider firing Ramirez at its July 18 meeting.

Regardless of whether that would violate state whistle-blower laws — as Ramirez claims — it’d surely be the district’s latest misstep in improving public accountability.

To be sure, it’s still unclear if there are additional grounds for terminating Ramirez, the district’s director of technology. A disgruntled employee could have any number of reasons for releasing damning information. But school officials have remained mum on the topic, with top administrators and the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Union instructing employees to keep quiet.

Ramirez’s move was a bold move in a district that has falsely boosted grades for decades. But it was also the right one.

On top of numerous socioeconomic problems faced by Hempstead students, the district has rarely been a model of effective, transparent management. A 2005 state comptroller audit found $5.1 million in careless spending between 2002 and 2004. The Education Department recently audited the district’s English as a second language programs and is now investigating alleged noncompliance with special education laws. All that comes in addition to an administrative carousel and the ever-changing organization of the district’s high schools.

Ramirez challenged the district’s opaque status quo, and he could pay a steep price for it. Hempstead’s bottom line will remain, however, with or without him: Only 38 percent of students graduated in 2011-12, the lowest rate on Long Island.

Perhaps the school district has legitimate, unrelated motives to consider firing its director of technology. But Ramirez shouldn’t be fired for rocking a boat that’s already underwater.