Houston School Cheated, Counselor Says

     HOUSTON (CN) - The Houston public school system demoted a counselor for truthfully reporting that her high school's administration inflated its graduation rate so it could get an "Acceptable" rating from Texas, the counselor claims in court.
     Sabrina Norman sued the Houston Independent School District in Harris County Court.
     She claims that the high school administration was so desperate to graduate students that it gave them 40 hours of credit for attending a 4-hour Baptist Church service.
     Norman was hired to work at Sam Houston High School in June 2008, and as the school counselor it was her job to schedule students' classes. While doing so, she says, she became concerned by excessive absences on students' records.
     "On those documents, the students did not earn credits for the listed courses because the students had excessive absences," the complaint states.
     Norman says students need 24 credits to graduate.
     "There were some students who had earned over the 24 credits needed to graduate, but they did not graduate because they did not receive the credits due to excessive absences," Norman says. "In fact, 85-90 percent of the students were actually retained or not in correct grade level because of excessive absences."
     Norman says she also was concerned that students were allowed to take summer school for classes they had not previously taken and failed.
     "The HISD policy for summer school stated that only students who had previously failed a class could attend summer school for that class," the complaint states. "However, students attending Sam Houston summer school 2008 were taking classes in summer that they had not failed during the school year and were given credit."
     Norman says she notified the school's administration about the summer school enrollment and principal Jane Crump told her the Texas Education Agency had permitted the practice.
     Norman claims the school's administration got so desperate to improve its graduation numbers it let students attend church for credit.
     "If the students attended one hour of church service, they received ten (10) hours of attendance credit," Norman claims. "The students went to a Baptist church whose pastor was an employee of HISD. Attending a four-hour church service earned them forty (40) hours credit."
     Norman claims the school's administration also flouted federal and state guidelines that schools have 15 days after the beginning of the school year to change student's schedules.
     "On November 10, 2008, there were students scheduled into new academic classes and enrolled in credit recovery classes by the administration team ... without the knowledge nor assistance of the counselors," the complaint states. "This was a violation of federal and state guidelines fifteen-day rule for changing schedules."
     Norman claims the administration's funny business "inflated the graduation rate, decreased the dropout rate and increased the attendance rate" resulting in the school "receiving a Recognized Accountability rating after being Unacceptable for seven years."
     She adds: "Sam Houston surpassed the Acceptable rating skipping from Unacceptable to Recognized, the second highest rating given to all schools in the State of Texas."
     Norman claims she was laid off for reporting these violations to the district.
     "On November 25, 2008, Dr. Norman received a letter from Mrs. Crump advising Dr. Norman her position would be absorbed because of budget constraints," the complaint states. (pg. 20)
     Norman says she "knew it was retaliation because if there were budget constraints, they could have cut teachers who had minimal students in their classes. Dr. Norman showed a document reflecting that an ROTC class only had four (4) students enrolled in it."
     To save her career, Norman says, she was forced to accept employment as a teacher in a foreign country. When she returned to the United States, she tried to get her job back with HISD.
     However, "Plaintiff was not reemployed by HISD and/or not fairly considered for reemployment because of her report of the illegalities at Sam Houston by a white principal, and/or the refusal to reemploy her was a mixed motive of her having reported misconduct and being African American," the complaint states.
     Norman seeks a declaration that HISD violated her rights under the Texas Constitution, and damages for mental anguish.
     She is represented by Larry Watts of Missouri City, Texas.