City Schools works closely with its partners in the news media to keep you informed about the work of educating students in Baltimore City. This webpage offers supplemental background, documents, and insight that supports those news stories.
Periodically, we will update this page with posts that pertain to news stories of great interest to our stakeholders. If you have a story or good news tip you would like to share, please email email@example.com.
Baltimore City Public Schools is successfully implementing the air conditioning plan approved by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2017. The plan calls for all school buildings to be air conditioned by the 2022-2023 school year, depending on approvals and the availability of state funding. City Schools is on track to meet that goal. There would be no plan and five-year timeline if the governor did not approve it first, yet he continually denies his role.
City Schools reduced the number of schools without air conditioning from 75 schools in 2017 to 21 schools as of August 30, 2021. That is 54 additional schools with air conditioning since the plan was approved four years ago, along with necessary upgrades to electrical systems and windows. Yet the governor repeatedly states that the plan he approved is not successful.
If the governor is criticizing the plan, then he cannot dismiss his role in making it a reality. He approved our air conditioning plan in 2017. City Schools is accountable to the community for implementing the plan the governor supported, and we are making progress on the plan.
On Monday, August 2, the WBFF-TV (Fox 45) aired a report titled “City Schools Denies Records Request, Still No Answers in Augusta Fells Probe.” The story references the media outlet’s request for transcripts for students at “Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 school years.” (quotation references the outlet’s official MPIA request).
In its on-air and website stories, WBFF-TV references yet paraphrase our denial of the request. However, they omitted our five-page response’s full contents and offer to explore alternative means of responding. View the letter here. After City Schools questioned the omission, the reporter offered to include the full story on the WBFF website.
In summary, we denied the request because:
There are federal laws that protect students’ records from public disclosure. According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a student’s education record is confidential and protected from disclosure.
Releasing a student’s transcript violates their right to privacy under federal and Maryland law. Because transcripts contain a wealth of personal and confidential information about a student’s academic history and status, the simple redaction of a student’s name will not guarantee prevention of a student from being individually identified. Please review this article, “With FOIA, Redacting Student Names Will Not Always Protect Student Privacy,” for a better understanding.
Students’ schedules are often individualized to their particular course needs, academic pathways, and interests. Transcripts for older students covers multiple years, which means it is even more likely that there are unique or there are only a few students, whose schedules over multiple years will be identical. Sharing a transcript, even after redacting obviously personally identifiable information (name, address, etc.), will result in a high likelihood that the student can be identified, especially to others in the school community.
In addition to airing the story, we understand Fox 45 and its corporate parent have engaged in a polling campaign to the city’s public officials (see attached example screenshot) regarding the MPIA request discussed above and the CEO’s employment.
On Tuesday, August 3, the Baltimore Brew published an article stating that City Schools closed the Liberty Recreation Center citing unsatisfactory conditions.
Here are the facts:
The article states that the site was not previously required to obtain a license from the Health Department. This is correct. However, the complaints led to the City Schools site visit that revealed food was being stored on site. Storing food in a food service facility requires a license from the Commissioner of Health based on Baltimore City Health Code. On July 19, Ms. Trueheart was notified of the findings of the investigation via phone call and letter and given until July 30 to address all the issues including applying for the appropriate permits.
The article also states that we offered Ms. Trueheart the opportunity to discuss the original complaint from the community member. This is accurate; however, upon our own review of the conditions of the site we decided to summarize the community complaint in our letter and include in the July 19 letter our direct findings. Both before and after sending the July 19 letter we held several phone calls with Ms. Trueheart about the contents of the letter and offered assistance to help her address the conditions of the site. She did not take advantage of the offer. She was also encouraged to respond in writing addressing line by line how she would address each of the findings.
The article states that the Liberty Recreation Center is shut down and needed to close because “currently in-person use of City Schools facilities are restricted". That is inaccurate. In fact, the letter refers to the recreation center’s access to the Liberty Elementary school gym where in-person learning is taking place. All school buildings, not the recreation center, have restricted in-person community activities based on the district’s Summer Field and Building Guidance.
Ms. Trueheart was advised to remove food from the premises and to apply for the license from the Baltimore City Health Department to distribute and store food. Other non-food activities by her organization were unaffected and there are other partners continuing activities in the recreation center. Once the food has been removed and the site is in compliance with all Health Department requirements, Ms. Trueheart may resume food distribution only immediately. She may store food once she has been approved for the Health Department license that allows her to do so.
City Schools believes in the value of quality recreational spaces to the community, but we must also protect the health and safety of our community. Health and safety procedures are in place to ensure and they must be followed to make sure all parties are protected.
On July 12, 2021, WBFF-TV (Fox 45) aired a story about student grade point averages in the first, second, and third quarters of the 2020-2021 school year. The report stated that 41 percent of high school students earned a grade point average of 1.0 or less in the third quarter.
Several media outlets and media personalities, such as former congressman Newt Gingrich via his Twitter account on July 17, have misstated the facts and content from that story. Some of these assertions were made without any discernable research or in support of an ideological narrative. Two of Mr. Gingrich's comments were particularly notable and required clarification and correction.
First, the following is a statement from City Schools in response to WBFF-TV's questions before it aired the story:
"Consistent with the experience of many school districts across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic created significant disruptions to student learning. As early as the summer of 2020, City Schools identified large numbers of students with decreases in their grade point averages and classroom performance compared to past performances.
Starting this summer and beyond, City Schools is providing students with various opportunities to acquire the unfinished learning they lost. Each student's progress will be assessed, and an action plan will be developed to complete any unfinished learning. These plans will guide families and teachers in helping students get back on track."
FALSE: "41 percent of all City Schools students have a GPA of 1.0 or less"
THE FACTS: Through the third quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, 41 percent of high school students had earned a GPA of 1.0 or less. But the real story is in the timing of the data. Data for the end of the school year reflects a student's final grade and appears on their transcripts.
The most accurate indicator of student performance will appear in the final grade. This is notable because a student may take critical steps (Ex. completing missing assignments from earlier in the school year), leading to a grade higher than they recorded in previous quarters.
For example, this is similar to reporting the score of a football game in the third quarter as a final outcome.
City Schools will provide the community with an update in the coming weeks on the final performance of high school students during SY 2020-21. But Mr. Gingrich's assertion ignores important context and paints a picture that ultimately may be proven false.
HIS STATEMENT: "FORBES reports a student with a 0.13 GPA ranked in the top half of his class (62 of 120). Baltimore City spends $1.4 billion ($18,000 per student)."
THE TRUTH: Mr. Gingrich attributed his statement to another publication. However, he did so – again – without proper context.
The "0.13 GPA" statement has long been disproved. Please read our April 9 post on this page for additional information. In summary, "The transcript contained content from a single moment in time, February 2021. Transcripts are snapshots and change regularly based on student activity. Class ranks may also vary based on enrollment at the school."
Similarly, City Schools does have a total budget of nearly $1.4 billion. However, the budget is not a matter of simple division – we do not divide the total budget by the number of students in the district.
Please read our March 9 post on this webpage for an accurate and clear understanding of our per-pupil spending. Further, you may also visit our budget webpage for factual information about our spending.
City Schools welcomes public discourse and debate about student achievement and the use of the resources we are entrusted with. Our goal is to provide clear and accurate statements about our work.
Editor’s note: Please see our March 2 post on this webpage for background.
As part of news reporting its reporting regarding irregularities at Augusta Fells Savage Institute, WBFF-TV continually claims that “questions remain unanswered” about aspects of what occurred during 2019 at the school.
In different responses to WBFF-TV, City Schools has made clear that there is an ongoing investigation into irregularities in course scheduling and inconsistencies in enrollment and grading at Augusta Fells Savage. City Schools is not prepared to share additional information immediately to ensure the investigation is conducted fairly and appropriately and with due process. We have requested that WBFF-TV pause its reporting until the investigation is completed or provide proper context. Once the investigation is complete, a more accurate picture will be available and be shared publicly.
City Schools fully intends to document the findings of the investigation directly and share them appropriately.
Editor's note: Please see our March 2 post on this webpage for background.
As part of news reporting regarding irregularities at Augusta Fells Savage Institute, City Schools has received questions regarding high school students' ability to be promoted to the next grade level. Due to the news reporting, there is some belief that high school students are promoted based on their age.
That belief is not accurate. High school students must earn the required number of credits to be promoted to the next grade level. Age is not a determination for grade-level promotion. Per Board Policy IKEA-RA, students may not be promoted to the next course or grade level without the proper credits. Every year City Schools reviews student grade levels to ensure the correct placement of students.
Credits are earned when a high school student passes a class. A student must earn 21 credits to graduate in City Schools. Similarly, a high school student must earn the required number of credits each school year to be promoted to the next grade level.
If a student does not earn the required number of credits in a given school year, they may be retained. In April 2017, City Schools revised the number and types of credits needed to be promoted at each high school grade level. For 9th grade students, the requirement for promotion increased from four credits to five credits. If a 9th-grade student does not earn five credits, they cannot advance to the 10th grade.
Editor's note: Please see our March 2 post on this webpage for background.
As part of its series regarding irregularities at Augusta Fells Savage Institute, WBFF-TV (Fox 45) has noted that a student's transcript appears to show the student taking advanced courses without completing the necessary prerequisite.
Students are not allowed to take certain advanced courses without passing the prerequisite.
City Schools is currently investigating irregularities in course scheduling and inconsistencies in enrollment and grading at Augusta Fells Savage Institute in 2019. City Schools does not comment publicly on the education records of individual students.
In general, students must complete certain pre-perquisite courses before advancing to the advanced course. For example, Algebra I must be completed before Algebra II. Also, foreign language courses must be taken sequentially.
There is an exception: English III can be scheduled before or concurrently with English IV.
Editor's note: Please see our March 2 post on this webpage for background.
As part of its series regarding irregularities at Augusta Fells Savage Institute, WBFF-TV (Fox 45) has regularly described the class rank of a student as "61 of 120". The statement is based on a copy of the student's transcript they reviewed.
The transcript contained content from a single moment in time, February 2021. Transcripts are snapshots and change regularly based on student activity. Class ranks may also vary based on enrollment at the school.
There is also important context necessary to understand their statement best:
Because of this context, a student with a low GPA would be ranked above a student with no GPA. Transcripts do not contain this context, which may lead to misunderstandings. City Schools is reviewing how information is presented on transcripts to avoid these challenges for students and parents in the future.
Regularly, some civic leaders and news outlets quote U.S. Census Data from 2015 or 2018 that places City Schools per-pupil spending as some of the highest in the country. The commentary regularly does not provide proper context.
Below is a primer regarding per-pupil spending by City Schools.
Background: Fox 45's Project Baltimore aired a story with allegations from a parent at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts that she was not informed of her student's attendance and academic challenges. She questioned what steps City Schools takes to notify families. Our response is as follows: On Monday, March 1, WBFF-TV (Fox 45) aired a story about a student in the ninth grade at student at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts (AFS).
City Schools' efforts to address academic irregularities in course scheduling and inconsistencies in enrollment and grading at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts (AFS) began before this news story and have been ongoing.
City Schools initially identified the irregularities during a review of seniors’ records at AFS in Summer 2019. The concerns were elevated, and an investigation was launched in August 2019 and is ongoing.
At that time, City Schools made several steps to address potential root causes of the issues.
Regarding the student, staff communicated via mail, phone calls and home visits to discuss the student’s particular situation before any news story appeared. We have worked with the family and student to make changes that meet his individual needs, and we will continue to support him to get back on track with his high school education.
City Schools is committed to honest, accurate, accessible, and transparent communications to parents and families about students' performance and will continue to be vigilant in reviewing student records to identify and address concerns. We will continue to work with families to support students at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts on the path to graduation and career readiness.
Background: Fox 45's Project Baltimore aired a story on March 1 with allegations from a parent at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts that she was not informed of her student's attendance and academic challenges. She questioned what steps City Schools takes to notify families. Our response is as follows:
Our goal is to provide resources and support to students and their families struggling with academic or attendance challenges. We hold schools and staff members accountable if that does not occur, including making appropriate staffing changes to improve outcomes.
City Schools does not publicly discuss the individual academic or attendance records or data of its students. However, City Schools has taken multiple steps with the student's family to support the young man, including:
Children between the ages of 5 and 18 must attend school — it's the law. If an absence occurs, the student's family receives a daily automated phone call advising of the absence. If necessary, families may respond to the call by noting if the absence meets the criteria to be excused. Otherwise, the absence is recorded as unexcused.
Students who are absent for 10% or more of school days are considered chronically absent. If a student is chronically absent, the following interventions should occur:
Truancy is a legal term used to identify students who have missed more than 20% of school days (about 3.5 days per month) without a lawful reason.
If a student has missed 15 days of school without a legal reason, the school may make a truancy referral to the district office. At that point, the district office issues a letter of concern to the family and conducts a case review to determine if due diligence has been done in trying to reach the family and support the student’s re-engagement in school. The district office also monitors the student’s data to determine if the letter of concern has an impact on the student’s attendance.
If the district determines that the school has made every effort to work with the family and offer support but that the student has continued accruing unexcused absences, charges will be filed against the parent or guardian in district court.
On January 21, The Baltimore Brew published an article about community responses to our air purification plan. The article is “Parents and teachers fear that portable air purifiers won’t make Baltimore schools safe for reopening”.
The article contained several points that require additional context or citations.
The truth about our air ventilation efforts:
Based on our current inventory, we have enough purifiers to support over 50% of students to return to schools that are scheduled to receive MERV 13 upgrades and support schools that will only receive purifiers. The district expects 20-25% of students to return to in-person classes.
Fox 45, in its series about emails about past grading adjustments in City Schools, is reviewing emails from January 2019 that document discussions that occurred at Calverton Elementary School. The emails capture some discomfort on the part of an employee to a potential change.
City Schools updated Board Policy IKA and its associated regulation more than 14 months ago, in May 2019, to provide staff and schools with additional guidance when an update to a student’s grade is needed. The updated policy also provides teachers and families with multiple avenues to register concerns if they disagree with the grade change process. The changes include a mandate that principals confer with teachers before changing a grade and a requirement that principals notify the teacher in writing if a grade is adjusted.
The original version of Board Policy IKA, adopted in 2011 and in line with MDSE guidelines at the time, provided schools autonomy to individualize their processes for changing a student’s grade. The unintended consequence was a lack of consistency and clarity for principals, teachers, and staff. The email exchange from Calverton in January 2019 helps make clear why additional guidance was required.
There was no violation of Board Policy IKA at Calverton because schools could set their own rules to review a student’s grade per the 2011 version of the policy. However, we did come to understand the policy didn’t provide enough guidance or direction.
To address this lack of centralized guidance, our grading policy’s updated 2019 version standardizes many aspects of our protocols related to grade changes. We want consistency in this process, so grades have the same meaning from school to school."
Note: Please review our September 14 post for additional information.
On September 16, 2020, journalist Alec MacGillis tweeted comments by the City Schools CEO regarding the number of log-ins by students to virtual learning classes. The figure tweeted by MacGillis was correct based on the CEO's comments.
However, there is significant context necessary to understand what students are included in that 65 percent.
The 65-percent includes:
ONLY students that logged in using their district credentials to any of our learning platforms - Clever, Zoom, Google.
The 65-percent does not include:
Summary: Since September 2017, Fox 45 has sought information regarding allegations of grade-changing within City Schools. The school district initially declined an open-records request by Fox 45 for records related to investigations regarding grade changes for the following reasons:
Fox 45 challenged that stance and the parties correctly addressed the matter in a court of law, where the judge disagreed with us. Since the judge issued her final ruling, City Schools has spent more than 3,900 work-hours producing the documents with all due effort and speed, resulting in more than 234,000 pages of documents, plus more than 50,000 emails. The news outlet is airing a series of stories based on information in those documents and emails.
Question: Did inappropriate grade changing take place?
Answer: Approximately eight of 23 total allegations were substantiated between 2010 and March 2019 - an average of around two per year. City Schools originally outlined the scope of those allegations in this statement to the community on June 4, 2019.
As of September 14, 2020:
It must also be noted that changing grades are permitted, under certain circumstances, by Board Policy IKA. The policy was adopted in June 2011 and updated in May 2019.
Question: Is grade changing allowed by teachers, principals, or staff members?
Answer: Yes, per Board Policy IKA and its associated regulations. Updated guidance forms were added via Board Policy IKA-RA, were adopted on October 3, 2019.
There are valid reasons that grades may be changed after a teacher first records them: For example, a student may have done make-up work that should be included, an assignment or test may have been left out by accident, a child on long-term medical absence may be doing work through an alternative program, or a mathematical error might need to be corrected. The vast majority of grade changes are made for these and similarly legitimate purposes.
Teachers may only adjust a student’s grade when there are extenuating educational circumstances, with approval from the school principal. Principals may adjust a student’s grade after conferring with the teacher that assigned the grade. Students, parents, and teachers may appeal any change. Please read the policy for full information.
Question: Why didn’t City Schools provide Fox 45 the emails initially?
Answer: The district believed that information requested by Fox 45 constituted a personnel records; the law does not require the district to share those records. In its response to the court, the district also provided several other reasons (“exemptions”) to keep the records private: the investigations were in progress (“deliberative process”); public release of the records could deprive individuals of a fair and impartial hearing; the public release could compromise the identity of individuals participating in the investigation, deter the willingness of individuals to come forward in the future and thus detrimentally impact the ability of the district to thoroughly investigate future allegations thoroughly.
Question: What happened as a result of the allegations, whether they were proven or not?
Answer: In some cases, staff members that knowingly took part in inappropriate grade changes were addressed using internal procedures. By law, discipline against employees cannot be shared publicly. More critically, City Schools identified the weaknesses in its processes and made the following changes by updates to Board Policy IKA. Beginning during the 2017-18 school year, we took the following steps:
Question: How much time did City Schools spend to provide the information sought by Fox 45?
Answer: Attorneys spent nearly 3,900 hours working to identify files requested by Fox 45. That is equivalent to almost 488 8-hour working days.
To view the documents obtained by Fox 45 in full, please submit an MPIA request here.
On September 11, 2020, City Schools closed two meal sites and issued the following statement to media:
"Effective immediately, City Schools will temporarily close the meal sites at Dr. Nathan A. Pitts-Ashburton Elementary/Middle School and Sandtown-Winchester Achievement Academy for the day. Both sites will reopen on Monday."
That same day, WJZ-TV incorrectly reported the meal site closure at Sandtown-Winchester Achievement Academy was closed due to a COVID-19 case. On September 13, 2020, City Schools requested the news outlet update the story on its website to remove the erroneous message, and notified families directly via email, automated phone call, and text.
On October 14, 2020, WBFF-TV (Fox 45) aired a story titled "Census: Baltimore City Schools Third Highest for Administrative Costs." In the story, the media outlet stated the following:
"The U.S. Census breaks down school spending into categories for America’s 100 largest school systems. We discovered a chunk of City Schools' money is not going to the classroom. It’s not buying books, computers or science equipment. Rather, it’s going to administrators, such as principals, assistant principals and people at North Avenue."
The statement does not provide proper context when it comes to administrative spending in City Schools. The district provided a comprehensive response to Fox 45, but only a portion was included in the story.
The following is the complete response to the story:
"The raw 2018 data in this federal government report on education funding is accurate but requires context.
City Schools does not have one of the highest administrative costs, per pupil, of all LEAs across the country. Comparing all LEAs in the country, City Schools ranks around No. 10,600 of the more than 14,000 school districts in the country. The federal government report only considers the 100 largest school districts in the nation based upon enrollment, or less than 1% of all our total school districts nationwide.
Under the methodology used to develop the federal government's report, City Schools has one of the highest administrative costs of the 100 largest school districts. That point also requires proper context. Due to the school budgeting approach we use, many “administrative” costs for City Schools are actually student and school costs that we pay for centrally. "