Cheating high school fired counselor who reported falsifications, lawsuit charges

Eric Owens | Editor

A high-school counselor has sued the Houston Independent School District because, she claims, she was fired for truthfully reporting that officials at her school regularly inflated grades and graduation rates in order to receive a coveted “Acceptable” rating from state regulators.

The frenzy to graduate enough students included providing 40 hours of credit for failing students who attended a four-hour service at a local Baptist church, Courthouse News Service reports. The pastor was a school district employee.

Long-troubled Sam Houston High School hired the counselor, Sabrina Norman, in June 2008. She came to the school with roughly three decades of experience, and her job was to schedule classes for students. In the course of her employment, she began to notice a rash of excessive student absences.

“On those documents, the students did not earn credits for the listed courses because the students had excessive absences,” Norman’s complaint alleges, according to Courthouse News.

The veteran educator says that at least 85 percent of the students missed so many school days that they either flunked outright or were held back.

“It was a travesty,” Norman said, told KTRK-TV in Houston. “There were blatant violations.”

Norman also alleges that students frequently enrolled in summer school courses despite never taking — let alone failing — those courses previously, which violates district policy.

In addition, the complaint asserts that the administration at Sam Houston High routinely disregarded federal and state guidelines which allow 15 days after the school year begins to change any student’s schedule. Principal Jane Crump once sent an email in two months past the deadline saying that 98 seniors would have their schedules changed, KTRK reports.

When Norman alerted school officials of the wealth of falsifications she had found, she was told that the practices were not ethical but were nevertheless permitted by the Texas Education Agency.

Sam Houston High had been rated as Unacceptable in the Lone Star State’s school assessment scheme for seven years prior to the implementation of the alleged scheme. According to Norman, school officials “inflated the graduation rate, decreased the dropout rate and increased the attendance rate” so that the school could improve its rating.

Thanks to the shenanigans, Courthouse News notes, the school skipped the rating of merely Acceptable and secured a rating of Recognized, “the second highest rating given to all schools in the State of Texas.”

Not long after she reported the violations she had discovered, Norman found herself out of a job. Principal Crump told Norman her dismissal was due to budget constraints. However, Norman calls it retaliation.

Norman says she was forced to find a teaching job overseas to salvage her career after she was fired. Her attempts to get her job back when she returned to the United States failed.

There’s also a racial angle to the lawsuit, according to Courthouse News. Norman alleges that the principal’s “refusal to re-employ her was a mixed motive of her having reported misconduct and being African-American.”

Norman seeks both a declaration that the school district violated her constitutional rights, and damages for mental anguish.

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