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New legal spat at school board

Comments incite ex-principal

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Allegations that as many as two dozen failing students at Thompson's R.D. Parker Collegiate had their marks upgraded to earn a diploma will spark former principal Ryan Land's fifth legal action against the Mystery Lake School Division.

Land declined Monday to talk much about yet another firestorm at the high school, saying he has faith in the grievance process, but confirmed the division fired him June 14.

Most people thought he was fired back in the winter, said Land, but Mystery Lake trustees had only removed him from his job as principal, while continuing to pay his probationary contract through to the end of the school year.

"In the end, the truth will come out -- I very much look forward to that day," said Land, who now has an executive position with the Vale mining company.

Land said he will file a grievance or some other form of legal action over recent media interviews by superintendent Beverley Hammond.

Land would not get into the division's allegations he passed students inappropriately, but did say, "It was part of a program we had, but I can't be the one to explain that."

Land said his first grievance, when trustees publicly rebuked him in the spring of 2010, was resolved by the board's apology.

Other grievances are moving forward and could start to be heard before the end of the year, he said. The grievances include one for the process the division followed until late winter, another for its public decision not to renew his probationary contract that was to end June 30.

His firing June 14 will bring a fourth action, and Hammond's comments will produce a fifth, said Land. Hammond said in an interview Monday an investigation she launched several months ago showed "irregularities" involving the marks and credits of at least two dozen students. "For us, it was an alarming number of students."

Hammond said some students had failing grades from as long as four years ago upgraded to a pass, without doing any remedial work, in return for doing a small amount of community service the school assigned.

Failing students received a community-service credit for effort as trivial as walking their dog or fostering a pet, Hammond said.

"A failing grade for a course was changed to a passing grade for walking one's dog," she said.

Hammond emphasized repeatedly that no student graduated from R.D. Parker last week who did not deserve to do so -- some caught up with teachers' help. But Hammond said some students who had expected to graduate are instead still working to get their required credits, and she cannot guarantee all students who graduated in June 2010 deserved their diplomas.

Education Minister Nancy Allan declined to be interviewed about the latest Mystery Lake controversy, but an aide issued a statement from the minister:

"The highest-quality education is essential to preparing young people for successful careers. The ability to meet deadlines and perform required tasks is an important skill, which our students need to learn if they're going to succeed both in and out of school. We've made it clear that students can be held back a grade. In fact, we've ensured that school divisions cannot have a policy that allows a student to pass regardless of their academic achievement. Our understanding is that all students graduating will have attained the required credits."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Education Minister Nancy Allan declined to be interviewed about the latest school controversy in Mystery Lake School Division, but an aide issued a statement from the minister:

"The highest quality education is essential to preparing young people for successful careers. The ability to meet deadlines and perform required tasks is an important skill which our students need to learn if they're going to succeed both in and out of school. We've made it clear that students can be held back a grade. In fact, we've ensured that school divisions can NOT have a policy that allows a student to pass regardless of their academic achievement. Our understanding is that all students graduating will have attained the required credits.

"When a school division has information or evidence to suggest grades are being assigned incorrectly, it has a corresponding obligation to pursue the matter and deal with it accordingly. Our understanding is that is what has happened here.

"Ultimately, everyone wants the same thing: we want students to have the best education possible and parents to have input into their children's' education. We are going to work together to address issues of concern that have been raised by community members in Mystery Lake.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2011 A6

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